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18.07 15 Mar 2018


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The US has imposed sanctions on 19 Russians for alleged interference in the 2016 presidential election.

The sanctions will cover five groups - including Moscow's intelligence services.

All property and interests in property of the designated persons subject to US jurisdiction have been blocked.

Americans are also banned from engaging in transactions with them.

Sanctions

The penalties include the first use of new powers passed by Congress last year to punish Moscow for election meddling.

Those targets include officials working for the Russian military intelligence agency, GRU, the Internet Research Agency, and the Federal Security Service (FSB).

One of those named is Yevgeniy Viktorovich Prigozhin - a man so close to the Russian President that he has been nicknamed "Putin's chef."

But he hit back, saying he had no businesses linked to the US and the sanctions didn't worry him.

He said: "I have been sanctioned maybe three or four times - I'm tired of counting, I can't remember.

"I don't have any business in the United States or with Americans. I'm not worried by this.

"Except that now, I will stop going to McDonald's."

Interference

The Treasury Department says the GRU and Russia's military both interfered in the election, and have said they were "directly responsible" for the NotPetya cyberattack that hit European businesses in June 2017.

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

"These targeted sanctions are a part of a broader effort to address the ongoing nefarious attacks emanating from Russia.

"Treasury intends to impose additional sanctions, informed by our intelligence community, to hold Russian government officials and oligarchs accountable for their destabilising activities by severing their access to the US financial system."

Nerve agent

It came as the US joined the list of countries blaming Russia for the poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury on 4 March.

The US had been reluctant to point the finger, but on Wednesday, Nikki Haley delivered a speech at the UN Security Council which stood with the UK in laying the blame at Moscow's door.

The statement added: "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."

Election meddling

The US Treasury has concluded that the Internet Research Agency (IRA) "tampered with or altered information in order to interfere with the 2016 US election" by creating and managing fake online personas on social media, posting advertisements that reached millions of people.

The agency is also accused of using personal information of Americans to open bank accounts to fund their operations.

Mr Prigozhin founded the agency as well as Concord Catering, a company which the US says provided funding to the IRA. The catering company has won huge contracts in schools across Moscow and also feeds the military, according to the Washington Post.

He and the 12 others named on the sanctions list were also named on Robert Muller's indictment last month.

Retaliation

Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov said Russia is preparing retaliatory measures.

The NotPetya cyberattack cost businesses billions of dollars, disrupted the global shipping trade and harmed the production of medicine. It crippled the electronic records of some US hospitals for more than a week.

The US has also accused Russia of meddling with its infrastructure including its energy sector.


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