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U.S. imposes sanctions on Russians linked to cyberattacks

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin On Capitol Hill in

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin On Capitol Hill in Washington in February. Credit: AP / Susan Walsh

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration, in its most aggressive denunciation of Russia to date, imposed sanctions against two dozen Russian nationals and entities tied to cyberattacks against the U.S., while also joining with European allies in condemning Russia’s alleged role in a nerve gas attack against two Russian nationals living in the United Kingdom.

The sanctions were imposed as senior national security officials also accused Russia of hacking into U.S. energy systems to spy on “industrial control systems” that power American factories and other infrastructure.

“Russia’s behavior continues to trouble us, and we are continuing to push back in meaningful ways,” a senior national security official, speaking on background, said Thursday.

The administration’s response to Russian intrusion comes as President Donald Trump has continued to face criticism from Republican and Democratic lawmakers alike who contend he has not done enough to condemn Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election and the actions of Russian leader Vladmir Putin.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, in a statement announcing the sanctions, said, “These targeted sanctions are a part of a broader effort to address the ongoing nefarious attacks emanating from Russia.”

The sanctions target the individuals and entities indicted last month by special counsel Robert Mueller as part of his probe into Russian interference in the election. Mueller’s indictments charged some two dozen individuals and entities with orchestrating online social media campaigns to influence the presidential election and undermine public trust in U.S. government institutions.

Five Russian companies and 19 Russian nationals, including several with ties to Russia’s intelligence agencies the GRU and FSB, were issued sanctions. Among them was the Internet Research Agency, a Russian-led group that Mueller alleged in court documents was behind a massive online trolling campaign aimed at boosting support for the presidential bids of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.

The sanctions freeze any assets the Russians may have in the United States and bars American companies from conducting business with them, Mnuchin said.

Senior national security officials, speaking to reporters on Thursday, said Russia also “deliberately targeted” and organized a series of cyberattacks against U.S. energy systems. They said that while the United States has managed to remove most of the hackers’ presence from the systems, U.S. energy companies remained on notice to bolster their systems from future intrusions.

Officials, speaking to last week’s nerve gas attack in the United Kingdom against Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter, Yulia, 33, said the incident “further demonstrates the reckless and irresponsible conduct” of the Russian government.

In a joint statement, Trump, British Prime Minister Theresa May, and French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel said they “abhor the attack that took place” and called on Russia to “to address all questions related to the attack.” Russia has denied any role in the deaths.

Trump, asked by reporters Thursday outside the White House if he believed Putin was behind he attack, said, “It looks like it.”

“It certainly looks like the Russians were behind it,” Trump said, after welcoming Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar to the White House. “Something that should never, ever happen, and we’re taking it very seriously, as I think are many others.”

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