The U.S. Treasury Department has modified sanctions against Russia, allowing U.S. companies to interact with Russia's domestic intelligence agency, the FSB.
The sanctions were imposed by the Obama administration on Dec. 29 in the wake of Russia's meddling in the U.S. presidential campaign, and were meant to deprive the FSB of access to some technologies.
NPR's John Ydstie reported that some U.S. tech companies complained the policy limited their ability to sell their products to non-sanctioned parties in Russia, "because the FSB controls the licensing needed to sell consumer products including things like cellphones and tablets."
The change announced today allows companies to do limited business with the intelligence agency in order to acquire those licenses.
He also reported that "a senior Treasury official who also worked on this issue during the Obama administration says the action represents a technical fix to avoid unintended consequences."
White House press secretary Sean Spicer said at a news conference that it was "common for Treasury, after sanctions are put in place, to go back and look at specific carve outs for different industries or products and services."
During a Thursday meeting with Harley Davidson executives at the White House, President Trump was asked about easing sanctions against Russia and replied, "I haven't eased anything."
During a brief background call with reporters, a senior Treasury official said the department's Office of Foreign Asset Control, which oversees sanctions, had begun to get complaints from U.S. companies on Dec. 30, and that the change covered mostly consumer devices and consumer software.
The senior treasury official confirmed that there was a cap of $5,000 per company per year on fees that could be paid to the FSB in order to obtain the necessarily licenses to sell their products, and that no exports are allowed to Crimea, which Russia took over in 2014.