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US hits Russians with sanctions over election meddling, cyber attacks

Washington

THE United State slapped sanctions on 19 Russian individuals and five groups, including Moscow's intelligence services, for meddling in the 2016 US election and malicious cyber attacks, the Treasury Department said on Thursday.

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said that there would be additional sanctions against Russian government officials and oligarchs "for their destabilising activities". He did not give a timeframe for those sanctions, which he said would sever the individuals' access to the US financial system.

"The administration is confronting and countering malign Russian cyber activity, including their attempted interference in US elections, destructive cyber attacks, and intrusions targeting critical infrastructure," Mr Mnuchin said in a statement.

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US 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 Donald Trump's favour. Russia denies interfering in the election.

US Special Counsel Robert Mueller on Feb 16 brought charges against 13 Russian individuals and three Russian companies, accusing them of participating in a criminal and espionage conspiracy to tamper in the 2016 campaign. The indictment said that 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.

Those targeted by the new sanctions include the Russian nationals and entities charged by Mr Mueller.

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.

The action comes on the heels of the United States, France and Germany joining Britain in denouncing Russia for a brazen poison attack that has left a former Russian spy and his daughter comatose in a hospital in Salisbury, England.

On Wednesday, Britain expelled 23 Russian diplomats in retaliation. It comes, too, as the outgoing head of the National Security Agency and US Cyber Command has warned that if the United States does not take punitive or deterrent action against Russia, its malicious activity will continue.

A June 2017 cyber attack, delivered through a mock ransomware virus dubbed NotPetya, wiped data from the computers of banks, energy firms, senior government officials and an airport. Systems in Ukraine were hit hardest, but US companies, including shipping giant FedEx and the pharmaceutical firm Merck, also were affected, losing hundreds of millions of dollars in earnings. REUTERS, WP

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