United States sanctions Russians for meddling, but not Putin's oligarchs

Pauline Gross
March 17, 2018

The US has imposed sanctions on 19 Russians, accusing them of interference in the 2016 US election and alleged cyber-attacks.

The measures target five entities and 19 individuals - including the FSB, Russia's top spy service; the military intelligence agency, or GRU; and 13 people recently indicted by Robert Mueller, the United States special counsel handling a sprawling Russia probe.

The statement from the Treasury secretary, Steve Mnuchin, spoke of Russia's "ongoing nefarious attacks" and State Department officials have spoken of more sanctions to come over a Russian cyberattack on the U.S. energy network.

US national security officials said the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and intelligence agencies determined Russian intelligence and others were behind a broad range of cyberattacks starting a year ago.

The measures are being described as the most significant steps taken against Moscow since Trump assumed office.

The US Treasury is freezing the assets of 19 people and 5 groups from Russian Federation it says engaged in cyber-attacks.

Russian businessman Evgeny Prigozhin, one of those indicted by Mueller and hit with sanctions on Thursday, said in comments cited by RIA news agency that he already had been hit with US sanctions "maybe three or four times - I'm exhausted of counting". The administration is also targeting the Internet Research Agency that Mueller says orchestrated much of the cybermeddling in the presidential election. Yevgeniy Viktorovich Prigozhin, a financial backer to the Internet Research Agency with deep ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, is also included.

Sanctions were also levied against individuals behind the separate Petya cyberattack and an "ongoing" attempt to hack the United States energy grid.

All the individuals will have any assets they have tied up in the U.S. frozen, and all Americans will be banned from doing business with them.

A White House National Security Council spokesman did not respond when asked what specifically prompted the public blaming of Russian Federation.

"Specifically, the FSB has utilized its cyber tools to target Russian journalists and politicians critical of the Russian government; Russian citizens and government officials; former officials from countries bordering Russia; and U.S. government officials, including cyber security, diplomatic, military, and White House personnel".

Russia has dismissed the nerve-attack accusations as pure speculation; Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Moscow would "certainly" expel some British diplomats soon in retaliation.

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In a separate move, the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are releasing malware "indicators" related to the Russian government cyber-campaign against the energy sector and other critical industries, including water, aviation, critical manufacturing and energy.

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said there would be additional sanctions against Russian government officials and oligarchs "for their destabilising activities".

The measures were the toughest the Trump administration has taken against the Kremlin so far.

"The GRU was directly involved in interfering in the 2016 USA election through cyber-enabled activities", Treasury said.

A senior USA national-security official, briefing journalists on condition of anonymity, called it "a multi-stage attack campaign" against "the systems that run our factories, and our grid".

The attack resulted in billions of dollars in damage across Europe, Asia, and the United States, and significantly disrupted global shipping, trade, and the production of medicines.

"My hypothesis is. the White House stance on Russian Federation is going to be determined to a large extent by how much they think the investigation threatens their political position", Rumer said.

Senior US national security officials told reporters that Thursday's announcement marked the first time sanctions have been issued under Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).

The Internet Research Agency "tampered with, altered, or caused a misappropriation of information with the goal or effect of interfering with or undermining election processes and institutions", specifically the 2016 US presidential race, the department said.

Thursday's sanctions target two groups.

The administration also accused Moscow of attempting to hack the USA energy grid, a previously undisclosed claim that officials said was orchestrated by Russian intelligence.

Other reports by GizPress

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