The Treasury Department on Thursday slapped new sanctions on two dozen Russian entities and individuals for interfering in the 2016 election and conducting a series of damaging cyberattacks.
“The administration is confronting and countering malign Russian cyber activity, including their attempted interference in U.S. elections, destructive cyberattacks, and intrusions targeting critical infrastructure,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement. “These targeted sanctions are a part of a broader effort to address the ongoing nefarious attacks emanating from Russia.”
Mnuchin added that Treasury is planning to impose additional sanctions “to hold Russian government officials and oligarchs accountable for their destabilizing activities by severing their access to the U.S. financial system.”
The announcement comes amid a growing firestorm over a nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy in southern England. The British government, the U.S. and others have blamed Moscow for the attack and moved this week to dispel 23 Russian diplomats. Though Thursday’s sanctions are unrelated to that attack, an administration official told reporters on a conference call that the incident “further demonstrates the reckless and irresponsible conduct” of Russia’s government.
Thursday’s sanctions follow through on the Trump administration’s promise to punish Russia for launching a game-changing cyberattack in June 2017, which cyber researchers dubbed NotPetya.
The threat came after the U.S. joined with its “Five Eyes” intelligence partners in February to blame the Kremlin for orchestrating the attack, which spread rapidly through Ukraine last year, before spilling into Europe, Asia and America. The virus, powered in part by leaked National Security Agency hacking tools, seized computer networks around the world, disrupting banks, hospitals, shipping routes, nuclear power plants and the main airport in Kiev, Ukraine’s capital.
The White House on Thursday called the digital assault “the most destructive and costly cyberattack in history,” noting that “several hospitals in the United States were unable to create electronic records for more than a week.”
Indeed, cyber experts have described the incident as a watershed moment. Not only was the virus destructive on an historic scale, researchers believe it provided an indication of Russia’s cyber prowess that they expect to see deployed elsewhere in the future.
Moscow has frequently used Ukraine — and Eastern Europe more broadly — as a testing ground for their next-generation cyber weapons. In recent years, Kiev has twice blamed its neighbor for shutting down portions of its power grid using increasingly dangerous digital weapons that hackers had never successfully deployed on that scale.