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US Imposes New Sanctions On Russia Over Election Interference, Cyberattacks

The Trump administration imposed new sanctions against Russia on Thursday, slapping punitive measures on 19 individuals and five entities over their alleged role in Moscow's interference in the 2016 election and other "destructive" cyberattacks.

The sanctions mark the most significant move against Russia since President Trump took office more than a year ago. They arrived as Washington's closest ally, Britain, is locked in a diplomatic struggle with Moscow after accusing the Kremlin of using a nerve agent to poison a former Russian intelligence officer living in the United Kingdom.

Trump also joined the leaders of the U.K., France and Germany on Thursday in issuing a statement that condemned the poisoning attack.

Among the Russians sanctioned by the U.S. on Thursday are 13 individuals and three entities, including the Internet Research Agency, indicted by Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller for their alleged role in Moscow's influence operation during the 2016 campaign.

President Trump has repeatedly questioned whether Russia did indeed interfere the election, despite the assessment of U.S. intelligence agencies that the Kremlin carried out a sweeping influence operation and propaganda campaign.

Lately, however, he has changed his tune and accepted that the active measures took place. Last week he vowed to "counteract very strongly" any interference in this year's midterm races.

Two Russian intelligence agencies – the domestic-focused Federal Security Service, or FSB, and Russia's chief military intelligence organization, the GRU – also were hit with sanctions along with six senior GRU officials. Several of those individuals already faced U.S. sanctions.

Sanctions against the government agencies are mostly symbolic and are not expected to seriously constrain their campaign of active measures against the West.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said, however, that the point is to continue pressuring and isolating Russia following its agitation against the West.

"The administration is confronting and countering malign Russian cyber activity, including their attempted interference in U.S. elections, destructive cyber-attacks, and intrusions targeting critical infrastructure," Mnuchin said.

"These targeted sanctions are part of a broader effort to address the ongoing nefarious attacks emanating from Russia."

Among the cyberattacks for which U.S. is trying to punish Russia was the "NotPetya" attack, which targeted computers in Ukraine. The U.S. attributes that attack to the Russian military.

Mnuchin said the administration plans 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 U.S. financial system."

[Source: By Ryan Lucas, NPR, Washington, 15Mar18]

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