U.S. releases overdue list of off-limits Russian firms

WASHINGTON — The State Department is warning countries and companies they risk tough U.S. sanctions if they do business with more than three dozen Russian companies, including arms trader Rosoboronexport and missile manufacturer Almaz-Antey.

The department on Friday published a list of businesses and individuals linked to Russia’s defense and intelligence agencies. The list, nearly a month overdue, was required by a sweeping new sanctions law Congress passed in July and President Trump reluctantly signed into law a few weeks later.

The sanctions package was Congress’ response to Moscow’s meddling in the U.S. presidential election last year and for its military aggression in Ukraine and Syria. U.S. officials said Russia’s leading spy agencies, the GRU and FSB, were involved in the election interference. The GRU is Russia’s military intelligence agency. The FSB is the main successor to the Soviet-era KGB.

The message the law and the list send is straightforward: The United States can’t bar third parties from doing business with these companies affiliated with Russia’s intelligence and defense sectors, but the U.S. can decide to freeze their assets and lock them out of the American financial system if they do.

Sens. Ben Cardin, D-Md., and John McCain, R-Ariz., two of the Trump administration’s most vocal critics on the delay, declared in a statement that the guidance issued by State “is a step in the right direction.”

With pressure building after an Oct. 1 deadline for the list was missed, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson approved the belated roster and authorized its release to certain members of Congress late Thursday.

Also on the list are Russia’s biggest shipbuilding firm, United Shipbuilding Corporation, and state-owned United Aircraft Corporation, which manufactures the Sukhoi and MiG jets.

Tillerson has said one reason for the delay has been concern about how the sanctions may affect businesses and major U.S. allies who do business with Russia’s defense and intelligence sectors. Turkey, a NATO ally, has a deal with the Kremlin to buy the S-400, Russia’s most advanced air defense missile system, which is manufactured by state-owned Almaz-Antey. And key security partner Saudi Arabia recently struck an array of deals with Moscow, including contracts for Russian weapons.

Despite overwhelming support in Congress for the sanctions bill, many lawmakers openly worried that Trump didn’t share their desire to rebuke Russia. Instead of looking for ways to retaliate against Moscow for the election meddling, Trump had openly challenged the findings of his own intelligence agencies, which concluded Russia had sought to tip the election in his behalf.

In a statement issued when he signed the sanctions bill, the president complained that lawmakers had overstepped their constitutional bounds and impeded his ability to negotiate with foreign countries. To make sure his administration didn’t drag its feet on implementing the law, Cardin, McCain and Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., frequently pressed Tillerson for status reports.

Richard Lardner is an Associated Press writer.

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