By Steve Holland and Doina Chiacu
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States slapped sanctions on 19 Russian individuals and five groups, including Moscow’s intelligence services, for meddling in the 2016 U.S. election and malicious cyber attacks, the Treasury Department said on Thursday.
Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said there would be additional sanctions against Russian government officials and oligarchs “for their destabilizing activities.” Mnuchin did not give a time frame for those sanctions, which he said would sever the individuals’ access to the U.S. financial system.
“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 in a statement.
U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential campaign using hacking and propaganda, an effort that eventually included attempting to tilt the race in President Donald Trump’s favor. Russia denies interfering in the election.
Those targeted by the new sanctions include the Russian nationals and entities charged on Feb. 16 by U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller with conspiring to tamper in the election. The indictment said Russians adopted false online personas to push divisive messages, traveled to the United States to collect intelligence and staged political rallies while posing as Americans.
The new sanctions also include Russian intelligence services, the Federal Security Service (FSB) and Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU), and six individuals working on behalf of the GRU.
Thursday’s action blocks all property of those targeted that is subject to U.S. jurisdiction and prohibits American citizens from engaging in transactions with them.
Treasury said the sanctions were also meant to counter destructive cyber attacks including the NotPetya attack that cost billions of dollars in damage across Europe, Asia and the United States. The United States and Britain last month attributed that attack to the Russian military.
Russian government hackers since at least March 2016 “have also targeted U.S. government entities and multiple U.S. critical infrastructure sectors, including the energy, nuclear, commercial facilities, water, aviation, and critical manufacturing sectors,” the Treasury Department statement said.
A senior administration told reporters on a conference call that Russian actors infiltrated parts of the U.S. energy sector.
“We were able to identify where they were located within those business systems and remove them from those business systems,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Both Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. Congress, which nearly unanimously passed a new sanctions bill against Russia last summer, had criticized Trump for not punishing Moscow. The Trump administration in January did not announce sanctions against Russia, for now, under the new law.
Republican Ed Royce, chairman of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, welcomed the new sanctions as an important step. “But more must be done,” Royce said in a statement, promising that his committee would “keep pushing to counter Russian aggression.”
The Treasury Department said it would keep pressure on Russia for its ongoing efforts to destabilize Ukraine and occupy the Crimea region, as well as corruption and human rights abuses.
“The recent use of a military-grade nerve agent in an attempt to murder two UK citizens further demonstrates the reckless and irresponsible conduct of its government,” it said.
Britain, the United States, Germany and France jointly called on Russia on Thursday to explain a military-grade nerve toxin attack on Sergei Skripal, a former Russian double agent in England.
(Reporting by Steve Holland and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Will Dunham)