'Ongoing nefarious attacks' by Russia prompt US to increase sanctions

Washington- By Gretel Johnston, - The United States on Thursday sanctioned five entities and 19 individuals in response to "ongoing nefarious attacks emanating from Russia," citing state meddling in the 2016 presidential elections among the reasons for the move.

Steven Mnuchin
Steven Mnuchin
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the sanctions were in response to "malign Russian cyber-activity, including their attempted interference in US elections, destructive cyber-attacks, and intrusions targeting critical infrastructure."
The department said in a news release that in addition to Russia's attempted election interference, Russian government "cyber actors" also have targeted US government entities and multiple critical infrastructure sectors, including energy, nuclear and commercial facilities, as well as water, aviation and manufacturing.
It also cited a cyberattack in June attributed to the Russian military, saying it was the most destructive and costly in history.
The attack was sourced to "NotPetya" malware, which resembled the Petya family of computer viruses. It quickly spread across the world, paralysing computers resulting in billions of dollars in damage due to disruptions in shipping, trade and other industries, the Treasury Department said.
Three of the newly sanctioned companies and 13 of the individuals named by Mnuchin are the target of an indictment filed March 2 by special counsel Robert Mueller, who is leading an independent probe of alleged Russian election meddling, including possible ties with Trump's campaign.
The indictment named the Internet Research Agency LLC, two other companies and the individuals, charging them with orchestrating an internet campaign to influence the US presidential race through various channels, including social media.
The list of sanctioned entities also includes the FSB, a successor to the KGB, and the GRU, a military spy organization. The GRU was directly involved in interfering in the 2016 US election through cyber activities, the Treasury Department said.
The sanctions mark the first use of a law Congress passed in June to punish Russia for its election-year interference. Trump signed the law but issued statements saying that he believed the legislation was "seriously flawed."
Mnuchin said the US intends to impose more sanctions in an effort "to hold Russian government officials and oligarchs accountable for their destabilizing activities by severing their access to the US financial system."
In addition, the US government continues to pressure Russia over efforts to destabilize Ukraine as well as for corruption and human rights abuses, the news release said.
The Treasury Department also cited the recent use of a military-grade nerve agent in an attempt to murder two British citizens as further demonstrating "the reckless and irresponsible conduct of [Russia's] government."
Russia has denied any involvement in the poisoning, which left former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia critically ill in hospital.
Britain announced on Wednesday that it will expel 23 Russian diplomats suspected of engaging in intelligence activities and cancel an invitation for a visit by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in response to the poisoning.
The Trump administration has now sanctioned more than 100 individuals and entities. Several of the people and four of the groups on Thursday's list had been previously hit with sanctions.
Those targeted by the new sanctions may not travel into the United States, and all their assets under US jurisdiction are frozen. US individuals also are barred from doing business with them.
The sanctions represent the administration's most aggressive actions to date against Russia for its meddling and other activities against the US.

Thursday, March 15th 2018
By Gretel Johnston,

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