Over the last few hours the media has been full of reports concerning an apparent slight easing of sanctions by the US Treasury Department on Russia’s counter-intelligence agency, the FSB.
The sanctions in question are those imposed by US President Obama in the aftermath of the allegations of Russian interference in the US election, certain of which imposed sanctions on dealings with the FSB. The US Treasury Department announced that it would now allow US companies to make limited transactions with the FSB when these are needed to import information technology products into Russia.
In the hours following the decision the White House and the Treasury Department have all made comments denying that this latest move by the US Treasury Department really amounts to anything more than fine-tuning. Allegedly some US companies wanting to import US information technology into Russia were unhappy with the sanctions were being originally enforced and lobbied for a change.
As if to reinforce the denials, Nikki Hadley, who is the new US ambassador to the UN replacing Samantha Power, is reported as saying that the US would not ease Crimea related sanctions on Russia until the Crimea is returned to Ukraine.
These denials are not wholly convincing. Many US companies must be unhappy with the way the sanctions imposed on Russia are being enforced. The most obvious examples are those in the oil industry. The mere fact that some US companies were complaining about some sanctions is not an obvious reason to relax them. I will state my own opinion, which is that I doubt the sanctions would have been relaxed if Barack Obama were still in the White House.
More probably, as Ron Paul is reported to have told RT, the Trump administration is flying a kite, slightly easing certain sanctions in order to signal to Moscow its desire for a thaw, whilst testing the reaction within the US, especially in Congress.
At this early stage in the new administration that is probably all it feels can do.
It is probably not a coincidence that the easing was announced the day after Rex Tillerson finally obtained confirmation as the new Secretary of State from the Senate.