Trump blames Russia for nerve agent, US slaps sanctions on Russians

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Despite Russia’s repeated denials, on Thursday, France, Germany and the United States joined the United Kingdom in blaming Russia for poisoning an ex-Russian spy. In Washington, U.S. President Donald Trump went on the record, for the first time, about who he thinks is responsible.

CGTN’s Roee Ruttenberg reports.

U.S. President Donald Trump was hosting Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at the White House, and only when asked by journalists did Trump said he now believes Moscow is tied to the nerve-agent.

“[It is] a very sad situation,” Trump said. “It certainly looks like the Russians were behind it. Something that should never, ever happen, and we’re taking it very seriously, as I think are many others,” said Trump.

Trump’s conclusions echoed those of his ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley, 24 hours earlier.

“One member stands accused of using chemical weapons on the sovereign soil of another member,” Haley said on Wednesday at the United Nations. “The credibility of this council will not survive if we fail to hold Russia accountable.”

President Trump said he spoke by phone with British Prime Minister Theresa May, adding the two were “in deep discussions.”

Earlier on Thursday, the U.S. and U.K., along with France and Germany, issued a joint statement calling the apparent poisoning a violation of international law, a threat to security, and an assault on British sovereignty.

Meanwhile, the U.S. general serving as head of NATO forces in Europe told lawmakers in Washington that Russia is carrying out a global campaign of destabilization.

“Russia’s increasingly modernized military is operating at levels not seen since the Cold War,” said Curtis Scaparrotti, Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) of NATO Allied Command Operation. “At the same time, Russia is using indirect activities to advance its strategic objectives throughout Europe, along its periphery, in the Middle East and beyond, Russia has demonstrated a willingness and capability to use political provocation, spread disinformation and undermine democratic institutions.”

That includes elections. In a separate move on Thursday, the U.S. Treasury slapped sanctions on two dozen Russian individuals and agencies over their alleged meddling in the 2016 vote. This, one month after a special counsel, investigating foul play, indicted 13 of them. They include the so-called Internet Research Agency, which American officials believe ran an online trolling operation meant to help then-candidate Trump. And, Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Russian businessman and close confidant of President Vladimir Putin. Prigozhin is accused of bankrolling much of that operation.

On Thursday, the special counsel, Robert Mueller, reportedly issued subpoenas to the Trump Organization as part of his Russia probe.

“We’re never going to be able to get to the bottom of this,” said Independent U.S. Senator Angus King. “We’re never going to be able to prevent the Russians from doing again what they did in 2016 until we acknowledge that they did it.”

The sanctions also address other “malicious” cyber-attacks, including a previously undisclosed U.S. finding that Russia tried to penetrate America’s energy grid. And, the NotPetya malware attack last summer, which caused billions of dollars in damage around the world. The U.S. called it the most destructive cyber-attack in history.

The U.S. has sanctioned Russians before: over what Washington calls Moscow’s unlawful annexation of Crimea, over interference in Eastern Ukraine, and even former President Barack Obama himself sanctioned Russia for interfering in the U.S. elections.

Critics said Trump has been slow to act. But there’s nothing in recent years suggesting that those sanctions, or these new sanctions, have or will sufficiently deter Moscow. In fact, some argue they will only make things worse.

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