Russia says it is preparing "countermeasures" to what it calls "categorically unacceptable" new sanctions being imposed by the United States over the poisoning of an ex-Russian spy in England.
Moscow's angry reaction came on August 9, the day after the State Department announced new sanctions aimed at punishing Moscow for the March poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, in the town of Salisbury with a military nerve agent.
The announcement followed earlier moves by the United States, Britain, and about 20 other countries to expel dozens of Russian diplomats in response to the poisoning, which a British investigation blamed on Russia. Moscow denies any involvement.
Reacting to the latest round of U.S. penalties at a news briefing in Moscow, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova accused the United States of trying to "demonize" Russia and said Moscow would be preparing a response to "this unfriendly act." She did not elaborate.
"We consider categorically unacceptable the linking of new restrictions, which we as before consider illegal, to the case in Salisbury," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said earlier.
A senior U.S. State Department official said the new sanctions targeted export licenses of sensitive U.S. technologies and industrial equipment, such as electronics, calibration equipment, and gas turbine engines. Requests for licenses to export such goods to Russia would now be "presumptively denied," the official added.
The official also said that the first tranche of sanctions, being imposed under a 1991 U.S. law concerning chemical and biological weapons, would take effect on August 22.
Russia will also be given 90 days to comply with other demands, including allowing international inspectors into the country to ensure that no chemical or biological weapons exist there.
If Moscow does not comply, a second round of sanctions could further downgrade diplomatic relations with Russia, including ones that could affect the national airline, Aeroflot, although not directly.
The sanctions could hit the airline to "the degree that [if] anyone applies for an export license to supply goods that are controlled under that system to Aeroflot, then I suppose these would fall under the presumption of denial," the senior official said.
Shares in Aeroflot fell to two-year lows on August 9, extending earlier losses after the sanctions announcement. The overall Russian RTS stock index continued to decline, although it recovered somewhat later in the day. The ruble also fell to a two-year low against the dollar.
Meanwhile, Russia's delegation to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) accused the West of acting as "a prosecutor, judge, and hangman at the same time."
"Why should [Russia] prove its innocence and not the other way round?" the delegation wrote on its official Twitter account.
The Russian Embassy in Washington in a statement late on August 8 called the allegations that Russia poisoned the Skripals with a highly toxic agent known as Novichok "far-fetched," and said neither Washington nor the British government had produced evidence supporting those allegations.
"This whole accusatory pyramid is being built in the absence of any legal substantiation, but they're still telling us about international law and respect for legal obligations," Zakharova told the Moscow news briefing.
She also claimed that U.S. officials were "knowingly presenting demands that are unacceptable to us" as conditions for the sanctions to be lifted.
Sergei Skripal, a former colonel in Russia's military intelligence agency, was convicted of treason in 2006 by a Russian court. Moscow released him from prison in 2010, sending him to the West in a Cold War-style spy swap.
On March 4, Skripal and his daughter were found unconscious on a park bench in Salisbury. They were seriously ill but later made a full recovery after spending several weeks in hospital.