Thursday 13 December, 2018

US sanctions 19 Russians for election meddling

(Image: AP: Donald Trump, in file image)

(Image: AP: Donald Trump, in file image)

The Trump administration on Thursday imposed sanctions on 19 Russians for alleged interference in the 2016 US presidential election, including 13 indicted by special counsel Robert Mueller as part of his Russia-related investigation.

Also targeted were five Russian companies, including the Internet Research Agency, which is accused of orchestrating a mass online disinformation campaign to affect the election that Republican Donald Trump won over Democrat Hillary Clinton.

The Treasury Department announced the sanctions amid withering criticism of Trump and his administration for failing to use the congressionally mandated authority to punish Russia for the election interference. Trump himself has been skeptical of the allegations.

The sanctions are the first use of the powers that Congress passed last year in retaliation for Moscow's meddling. The targets include officials working for the Russian military intelligence agency, GRU. Thursday's action freezes any assets the individuals and entities may have in the United States and bars Americans from doing business with them.

The department said in a statement that the GRU and Russia's military interfered in the 2016 election and were "directly responsible" for the NotPetya cyberattack that hit businesses across Europe in June 2017.

"The administration is confronting and countering malign Russian cyber activity, including their attempted interference in US elections, destructive cyberattacks, and intrusions targeting critical infrastructure," said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. "These targeted sanctions are a part of a broader effort to address the ongoing nefarious attacks emanating from Russia."

Among those penalised was Yevgeny Prigozhin, who is known as Russian President Vladimir Putin's "chef" and who ran the St Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency, and 12 of the agency's employees. They were included in Mueller's indictment last month.

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

"The IRA created and managed a vast number of fake online personas that posed as legitimate US persons to include grassroots organizations, interest groups, and a state political party on social media," the Treasury Department statement said. "Through this activity, the IRA posted thousands of ads that reached millions of people online."

The sanctions also affect the Russian Federal Security Service, or FSB, and six of its employees, for cyber attacks more broadly, including those targeting Russian journalists, opposition figures, foreign politicians and US officials. The Americans are members of the diplomatic corps, the military and White House staffers.

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