Russia has angrily denounced the imposition of “draconian” new US sanctions after the administration concluded that Moscow was responsible for the Salisbury nerve agent attack.
The embassy in Washington accused the Americans of running a “sanctions assembly line” following the surprise announcement by the State Department on Wednesday.
The Kremlin said the US action was “absolutely unlawful” but played down the prospect of immediate tit-for-tat measures.
The move came despite controversial efforts by President Donald Trump to reach out to his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, at last month’s summit in Helsinki.
Unusually, there was no immediate comment by the US president, who has been heavily critical of the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Under US legislation, the administration is obliged to act once there has been a determination that chemical or biological weapons have been used.
State Department officials said the sanctions – which are due to come into force around 22 August – were expected to include an export ban on sensitive national security technology and goods.
They could be followed by a second more punitive round of measures if the administration is unable to certify that Russia is no longer using chemical weapons or provide “reliable assurances” that it will not do so in future.
According to US reports, they could include downgrading diplomatic relations, suspending flights to the US by state airline Aeroflot and cutting off many exports and imports.
In its statement, the Russian Embassy in Washington accused the US of failing to provide any justification for the action. “We grew accustomed to not hearing any facts or evidence. The American side refused to answer our follow-up questions, claiming that the information is classified. However, we were told that the US has enough intel to conclude that Russia is to blame,” it said.
It added: “We confirmed that we continue to strongly stand for an open and transparent investigation of the crime committed in Salisbury and for bringing the culprits to justice. We suggested publishing our correspondence on this issue. No answer has followed so far.”
In Moscow, Mr Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said they were still waiting for official notification from the US authorities.
“We heard the official statements about the so-called new sanctions and we heard some high-profile source saying that some restrictions could be introduced against Russia,” he told reporters