US Sanctions Russian Intelligence Services

Prosecutor of Crimea Natalya Poklonskaya

Trump's Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced on Thursday they will finally enact sanctions on Russian agents (a month and a half after the Congressional deadline btw) for their "attempted interference in United States elections, destructive cyber-attacks, and intrusions targeting critical infrastructure".

The list of Russians now under US sanctions includes the 13 indicted last month by USA special counsel Robert Mueller as part of his Russia-related investigation into alleged election interference.

"The targeted sanctions are a part of a broader effort to address the ongoing nefarious attacks emanating from Russian Federation", said Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin.

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

Thursday's actions have caused some Russia analysts to ask whether the administration is taking a more confrontational stance despite Trump's repeated statements in the election campaign that he wanted a better relationship with Moscow, his praise for Putin and apparent reluctance to criticize the Russian leader.

The direct condemnation of Moscow represented an escalation in the Trump administration's attempts to deter Russia's aggression in cyberspace, after senior USA intelligence officials said in recent weeks the Kremlin believes it can launch hacking operations against the West with impunity.

Five entities including the Russian military intelligence agency GRU are targeted in Thursday's sanctions.

Yevgeny Prigozhin - an oligarch who allegedly ran the agency and is known as "Putin's chef" - and 12 of the agency's staff are also hit by the sanctions. Additionally, the administration alerted the public that Russian Federation is targeting the US energy grid with computer malware that could sabotage the systems.

President Donald Trump speaks during a cabinet meeting at the White House, Thursday, March 8, 2018, in Washington.

Russia has dismissed the nerve-attack accusations as pure speculation; Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Moscow would "certainly" expel some British diplomats soon in retaliation.

According to a U.S. technical advisory, the hacking attempts date back to at least since March 2016, and successfully infiltrated energy sector networks from small commercial facilities via spearphishing emails, which installed malware on victims' computers. The Treasury Department also said that by redesignating the Federal Security Service (FSB) and the GRU under the congressional legislation, it will give the department greater ability to levy further sanctions on them.

The indictment said Russians adopted false online personas to push divisive messages, travelled to the United States to collect intelligence and staged political rallies while posing as Americans.

Senior administration officials said the penalties on five Russian entities and 19 individuals are meant to punish Russia for "malicious cyber activity" and the "reckless and irresponsible conduct of its government", a rare public rebuke of the Vladimir Putin-led Kremlin by the Trump administration.

The IRA "created and managed a vast number of online personas" and "posted thousands of ads that reached millions of people online, all while hiding its Russian identity", a senior national security official told reporters on a conference call.

The attack resulted in billions of dollars in damage across Europe, Asia, and the United States, and significantly disrupted global shipping, trade, and the production of medicines.

US regulators on Thursday announced new punitive sanctions against five Russian entities and 19 citizens for interfering in the United States' presidential election in 2016.

"Russia's behavior or lack thereof on the world stage is continuing to trouble us", a second senior administration official said.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, who ran the St. Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency, has been targeted by the US sanctions along with 12 of the agency's employees.

Trump has frequently questioned a January 2017 finding by USA intelligence agencies that Russian Federation interfered in the 2016 campaign using hacking and propaganda in an effort eventually aimed at tilting the race in Trump's favour.

Two entities owned by Prigozhinn also were sanctioned.

Thursday's sanctions include a group of six Russian intelligence officials, only two of whom were not previously sanctioned.

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