In a surprisingly robust reprimand for the Trump administration, the U.S. Treasury Department issued a set of sanctions Thursday citing interference in the 2016 election as part of a broader pattern of hostile actions undertaken by the Russian government against U.S. interests. The sanctions followed U.S. joint statements denouncing the Russian government’s suspected attack on former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia Skripal using a chemical nerve agent known as Novichok in Salisbury, England.
In a wide-ranging statement addressing “the ongoing nefarious attacks emanating from Russia” the U.S. Treasury condemned not only the recent poisoning attempt but also “malign Russian cyber activity, including their attempted interference in U.S. elections, destructive cyber-attacks, and intrusions targeting critical infrastructure,” according to a statement from Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin that accompanied the sanctions.
“These targeted sanctions are a part of a broader effort to address the ongoing nefarious attacks emanating from Russia,” Mnuchin said. “Treasury intends to impose additional CAATSA sanctions, informed by our intelligence community, to hold Russian government officials and oligarchs accountable for their destabilizing activities by severing their access to the U.S. financial system.”
The sanctions also address Russia’s role in 2017’s NotPetya cyberattack, a massively destructive global malware effort that first appeared to be ransomware. Security researchers determined that NotPetya’s true aims were sowing mass chaos in target countries by disrupting airports, banks and industrial targets including radiation monitoring systems. “The Russian military, of which the GRU is a part, was also directly responsible for the NotPetya cyber-attack in 2017,” the Treasury Department stated decisively.
The sanctions also cite other Russian efforts to penetrate U.S. critical infrastructure systems — a threat that the federal government has made efforts to bolster its resources to defend against. In 2017, the Department of Homeland Security expanded that critical infrastructure designation to include election databases and voting machines.
Remarkably, the new U.S. sanctions target many of the same organizations and individuals named in recent indictments by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, including the Internet Research Agency which “tampered with, altered, or caused a misappropriation of information with the purpose or effect of interfering with or undermining election processes and institutions.” To date, the Trump administration has been largely dismissive of Mueller, who continues to lead a far-reaching investigation into meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.