By Mike Eckel, for RFE\RL
U.S. authorities announced new financial sanctions against Russia’s top intelligence agencies, more than a dozen Russian citizens, and the company known as the Russian “troll factory” in the latest U.S. push to punish Moscow.
The measures, announced by the White House and the Treasury Department on March 15, were specifically in response to Russian efforts to interfere with U.S. elections systems, including the 2016 presidential campaign.
It also was in response to what officials said was a wide range of “malicious cyberactivity,” including Russian efforts to hack into the U.S. energy grid and other parts of the U.S. infrastructure, including dams.
The sanctions, which U.S. officials had hinted would be announced this week, were not directly linked to the poisoning in Britain of a retired Russian military intelligence officer and his daughter, though Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin cited the case as an example of what he called was Russia’s reckless actions.
“Treasury continues to pressure Russia for its ongoing efforts to destabilize Ukraine, occupy Crimea, meddle in elections, as well as for its endemic corruption and human rights abuses,” he said in a statement. “The recent use of a military-grade nerve agent in an attempt to murder two U.K. citizens further demonstrates the reckless and irresponsible conduct of its government.”
In Moscow, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told the Interfax news agency that Moscow was preparing retaliatory measures against Washington.
It’s unclear how much effect the new U.S. measures will have in influencing Russian actions in the United States or Europe. Many of the agencies, individuals, and entities had either been sanctioned previously or had been publicly accused in U.S. statements, including in the indictment released last month by U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
But the measures will further ratchet up tensions with Moscow.
The new penalties were the first to be utilized under a law that Congress passed last year to punish Russia for election meddling.
The Treasury Department accused the Russian military intelligence agency, the GRU, and Russia’s military of interfering in the 2016 election. It also said they were directly responsible for the NotPetya cyberattack, which caused billions of dollars in damages across Europe in June.
U.S. national security officials also told reporters that the FBI, along with the Homeland Security Department and intelligence agencies, have concluded that Russian intelligence and other agencies were behind attacks on some parts of the U.S. energy sector, including grids, dams, and factories.
The Russians “conducted network reconnaissance” of industrial-control systems that run U.S. factories and the electricity grid, said the officials, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity.
The Treasury Department announcement named the Internet Research Agency, a St. Petersburg company known informally as the “Russian troll factory” for its efforts to create fake accounts on Facebook and other social-media platforms.
The company, and the man believed to be its financier, Yevgeny Prigozhin, were indicted by Mueller last month on conspiracy and other charges.
Earlier, the United States joined Britain, France, and Germany in a strongly worded statement that accused Russia of responsibility for the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter, who remain hospitalized in Britain after being exposed to a powerful nerve agent.
“This use of a military-grade nerve agent, of a type developed by Russia, constitutes the first offensive use of a nerve agent in Europe since the Second World War,” leaders of the four countries said.
President Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, was holding a meeting with his Security Council, amid sharply rising tensions with London over the poisoning incident.
By Mike Eckel, for RFE\RL