U.S. Sanctions Russian Spies Tied to Election Hack, Poisoning

(Bloomberg) -- The Trump administration is sanctioning 15 Russian military intelligence operatives over efforts to interfere in the 2016 U.S. election and the attempted assassination of a former double agent in the U.K., the Treasury Department announced Wednesday.

U.S. Sanctions Russian Spies Tied to Election Hack, Poisoning

The new sanctions also target individuals allegedly involved in a Russian cyberattack of the World Anti-Doping Agency, and an additional former intelligence officer accused of working for oligarch Oleg Deripaska.

The move comes amid a strain in relations between President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, with the U.S. upset over Russia’s capture of Ukrainian ships and sailors in the Kerch Strait near Crimea. The U.S. president abruptly canceled a planned meeting at the G-20 gathering in Buenos Aires late last month, citing Russia’s activities in Ukraine.

Treasury’s announcement coincided with a notification that the administration is ready to remove sanctions on Deripaska’s aluminum company, United Co. Rusal, after he agreed to significantly reduce his ownership stake. Deripaska will remain under sanction and his property will stay blocked.

Trump has also been dogged by criticism related to the ongoing special counsel investigation into possible collusion between his campaign and Russia. Earlier this week, a federal judge criticized Michael Flynn, his former national security adviser, for lying to FBI agents about conversations with the Russian ambassador to the U.S.

U.S. Sanctions Russian Spies Tied to Election Hack, Poisoning

“Treasury is sanctioning Russian intelligence operatives involved in cyber operations to interfere with the 2016 election and a wide range of other malign activities,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.

Mnuchin said the U.S. would continue to work with international allies “to take collective action to deter and defend against sustained malign activity by Russia, its proxies, and intelligence agencies.”

The Trump administration has now sanctioned 272 Russian-related individuals – a statistic the president’s supporters frequently cite to refute criticism from a bipartisan group of lawmakers over his efforts to cultivate warmer ties with the Kremlin.

The elections-related sanctions specifically target individuals involved in Project Lakhta, a Russian effort to pose as U.S. persons to interfere in American elections, as well as the release of stolen election-related documents. The theft and release of emails belonging to the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton campaign aide John Podesta have been attributed to Russian intelligence operatives.

U.S. Sanctions Russian Spies Tied to Election Hack, Poisoning

The sanctions also hit Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, the two Russian intelligence operatives who attempted to assassinate former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter using the Novichok nerve agent. The Kremlin has denied involvement in the attempted assassination.

The sanctions will also penalize Russian intelligence officers who hacked and then illegally released medical data of professional athletes held by the World Anti-Doping Agency. The attack came after Russian athletes were banned from participating in the 2016 Summer Olympics following a widespread performance enhancing drug scandal.

The new sanctions will also hit Victor Boyarkin, a former Russian intelligence officer who now works for Deripaska. The U.S. says Boyarkin worked with the Russian metals broker to provide financial support to a political party in Montenegro ahead of the country’s 2016 elections. Deripaska owns an aluminum plant in Montenegro, and Russian agents there had sought to stop the Balkan state from joining NATO ahead of its accession in 2017.

The penalties will prohibit financial transactions between the sanctioned individuals and U.S. citizens or businesses, limiting their access to global financial systems.

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