WASHINGTON -- The U.S. State Department has targeted more than three dozen major Russian defense and intelligence companies under a new U.S. sanctions law, restricting business transactions with them and further ratcheting up pressure against Moscow.
The new list, released on October 27, came after weeks of mounting criticism by members of Congress accusing the White House of missing an October 1 deadline.
That deadline was set by legislation that was signed into law reluctantly by President Donald Trump in August. Passed by Congress overwhelmingly, the law seeks to punish Russia for what the U.S. intelligence community concluded was its meddling in last year's U.S. election, among other things.
The new list includes some of the best-known companies in Russia's military-industrial complex, most of which are state-owned. It includes Rosoboroneksport, the country's main arms exporter; Almaz-Antey, a major manufacturer of missiles; and the country's biggest shipbuilding firm, United Shipbuilding Corporation.
Also included are airplane manufacturers Sukhoi and Tupolev and the technology holding company Rostec, which among other things oversees a major titanium producer, VSMPO-AVISMA. U.S aircraft giant Boeing is a partner in that venture.
The sanctions target one of Russia's biggest and most successful industries. Reports have shown Russia is second only to the United States in selling sophisticated arms around the world.
A senior State Department official said the sanctions could limit "the sale of advanced Russian weaponry around the world."
But the official denied that the intent of the sanctions was to curb competition from Russia in the global arms sales business, which is already dominated by the United States.
"Certainly, we're not looking at this particular sanctions legislation as some sort of competitive tool," the official told reporters in Washington. "That's not the intent of Congress and certainly not the administration's intent in enforcing it."
Several U.S. allies, however, had drawn up plans to purchase arms from Russia which could be affected by the sanctions. Turkey and Saudi Arabia recently sealed deals to purchase Russian weapons systems.
"Wherever possible, the United States intends to work with our allies and partners to help them identify and avoid engaging in potentially sanctionable activity while strengthening military capabilities used for cooperative defense efforts," the State Department said in a statement accompanying the released list.
The listed entities also include Russia's main intelligence and security agencies -- the FSB and the GRU -- both of which were targeted under measures instituted by Trump's predecessor, Barack Obama, for election-related meddling.
The newly released list serves as guidance for companies and individuals in preparation for when the restrictions officially go into effect on January 29. The law authorizes U.S. government officials to punish -- for example, using asset seizures -- individuals and companies that "knowingly engage in a significant transaction" with people or firms on the list.
In Moscow, there was no immediate reaction to the list, which had quietly been telegraphed ahead of time to officials there.
But a lawmaker in Russia's upper chamber of parliament with ties to Russia's security agencies warned that it would affect cooperation with Washington in Syria, where the two sides have been waging parallel campaigns against Islamic State militants.
"It is definitely damaging political cooperation between Russia and the United States. I think cooperation in the war on terror in Syria will be even less constructive," Viktor Bondarev was quoted by the state news agency TASS as saying.
He also insisted that the Western sanctions first imposed on Russia following its annexation of Ukraine's Crimea Peninsula in 2014 had only benefited the economy.
Trump has repeatedly called for a more conciliatory approach toward Moscow, and the Kremlin had initially embraced that effort, while it also criticized the Obama White House. But those efforts have all but evaporated as congressional and FBI probes into suspicion interactions between Trump associated and Russian officials have moved forward.
Washington and Moscow have also expelled diplomats; and the United States ordered the closure of Russia's San Francisco Consulate.
Two of the U.S. Senate's harshest critics of Russia, Republican John McCain and Democrat Ben Cardin, had suggested the Trump White House was dragging its feet on implementing the new sanctions law.
Late October 26, as an unofficial State Department list circulated on Capitol Hill, the two issued a joint statement calling it "a step in the right direction."
"Congress will continue to conduct oversight of each step to ensure the administration is following both the letter and the spirit of the law," the statement said.
Senator Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a critic of Trump who had questioned the department's delay of the sanctions list, also welcomed the list.
"The guidance provided today by the State Department is a good first step in responsibly implementing a very complex piece of legislation," he said. "Congress will expect thorough and timely consultation until full implementation is complete."
A senior State Department official said the delay was not caused by reluctance to enforce the law.
The administration shares Congress's goal of responding "to Russia's malign behavior with respect to the crisis in eastern Ukraine, cyberintrusions and attacks, and human rights abuses," the official said.
With reporting by AFP, dpa, and TASS