US issues sanctions on Russia over cyber attacks

US issues sanctions on Russia over cyber attacks

The US ramped up pressure on Russia over cyber attacks, including Moscow’s interference in the 2016 presidential elections, as it unveiled sanctions on individuals and entities including Russian intelligence services.

The move comes amid intense pressure on Donald Trump to take harsher action against President Vladimir Putin as the US president fends off allegations that his election campaign was aided by Russia. Tension between Russia and the West have escalated further in recent days following the attempted murder of former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in a nerve agent attack in the UK this month.

On Thursday, the leaders of the US, France and Germany joined Britain’s prime minister in blaming Russia for the attack. The US Treasury said the recent use of a military-grade nerve agent in an attempt to murder two UK citizens was sign of “reckless and irresponsible conduct” by the country’s government.

The Treasury department said it was designating five entities and 19 individuals in response to what Steven Mnuchin, Treasury secretary, called “nefarious attacks”.

In its statement, the Treasury department said Russian government cyber actors have since 2016 targeted US government entities and “multiple US critical infrastructure sectors” — among them energy, nuclear, commercial facilities, water, aviation, and manufacturing.

A senior national security official said the US had discovered that cyber actors conducted network reconnaissance on the systems that run US factories and America’s energy grid. The breach of the grid has alarmed national security officials and bears out long-held concerns at the Pentagon that Moscow will seek to disable critical US infrastructure.

Among the entities targeted by the Treasury sanctions are the Federal Security Service, Russia’s key intelligence organisation, as well as the Main Intelligence Directorate, or GRU.

The sanctions hit the three entities and 13 Russian individuals indicted by special counsel Robert Mueller last month for interference in the 2016 presidential election. Among them is the internet Research Agency, an organisation accused of being a “troll farm” that spreads propaganda and disinformation.

In February, Mr Mueller charged the IRA and linked companies and individuals with operating a well-funded propaganda campaign from within the US to “sow discord” and support the Trump presidential campaign while attacking Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.

The IRA and its employees allegedly acquired US identities and posed as Americans while using Facebook and other social media to organise political rallies and spread information about divisive social and political issues. The Treasury’s announcement on Thursday echoed Mr Mueller’s indictment and said the IRA had sought to “interfere with the 2016 US election”.

Among the sanctioned individuals is Yevgeny Prigozhin, who the Treasury said funded the IRA’s interference in the presidential election. Mr Prigozhin has been dubbed “Putin’s chef” as his company Concord, also sanctioned on Thursday, has catering contracts with the Kremlin. Mr Prigozhin was previously targeted by the US in 2016 as part of sanctions related to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“The administration is confronting and countering malign Russian cyber activity, including their attempted interference in US elections, destructive cyber attacks, and intrusions targeting critical infrastructure,” said Mr Mnuchin in a statement.

“These targeted sanctions are a part of a broader effort to address the ongoing nefarious attacks emanating from Russia. Treasury intends to impose additional . . . sanctions, informed by our intelligence community, to hold Russian government officials and oligarchs accountable for their destabilising activities by severing their access to the US financial system.”


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