The implications of the move were not immediately clear, but the U.S. has taken similar steps in the past to help businesses avoid unintended consequences on cross-border transactions.
The White House said the move was routine and not a change in policy or easing of the sanctions. A source familiar with the sanctions told NBC News that the change was a technical fix that was planned under Obama.
Spicer also disputed the notion that it marked a shift in policy toward Russia: "No it doesn't. From what I understand, it is a regular course of action," Spicer said.
"Our understanding is that this is not the start of sanctions easing," said Ian Bremmer, a widely respected political scientist and president of consulting firm Eurasia Group. "It's a rule change clearing up a problem with the sanctions regime that prevented U.S. exporters of non-sanctioned electronic devices from complying with both U.S. and Russian law. The problem was identified by the Obama administration, and this appears to be the response to address it."
Democrats are signaling they believe it is more than a routine technical adjustment.