President Donald Trump has expanded US sanctions on Russians that interfered in the 2016 presidential election — one of his toughest moves yet against a country he says didn’t meddle at all.
On Thursday afternoon, the State Department announced that the administration will now target 33 individuals and entities, like oligarchs and a troll farm, for their connections to Russia’s defense and intelligence sectors.
The new sanctions are meant to “impose costs on Russia in response to its interference in the United States election process, its unacceptable behavior in eastern Ukraine, and other malign activities,” according to a State Department fact sheet.
Special counsel Robert Mueller, who is leading the investigation into possible collusion between the Trump presidential campaign and the Kremlin, already indicted some of these people back in July. The new Thursday additions bring the total number of individuals being punished for interfering in the election to 72.
Trump authorized the sanctions under what’s known as the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, or CAATSA. That law — passed by Congress last summer with a veto-proof majority so Trump had to sign it despite his public protests — instructs the administration, among other things, to punish foreign perpetrators of election meddling.
With Trump’s new executive order it will be harder for these individuals and organizations to access cash and do business with others around the world.
The new sanctions are quite an escalation from a president who has famously cozied up to Russian President Vladimir Putin and has repeatedly denied Kremlin wrongdoing during the 2016 US election. It’s also a surprise since he typically resists antagonizing Moscow because he wants the US and Russia to have a stronger relationship.
Russia, of course, will bristle at the new measures — but that doesn’t seem to matter to the administration.
“We will continue to vigorously implement CAATSA and urge all countries to curtail relationships with Russia’s defense and intelligence sectors, both of which are linked to malign activities worldwide,” Heather Nauert, the State Department’s chief spokesperson, said in a statement.
Indeed, the sanctions also targeted a part of China’s military and its leader, Li Shangfu, for buying warplanes and missiles from Russia. Clearly, the administration will both harm and publicly shame those who want to grow closer to Russia’s security agencies.
Is this a sign that Trump is getting tough on Russia?
US officials already say there are signs that Russia aims to meddle in the 2018 midterm elections. Thursday’s sanctions, then, may form part of a broader effort to counter that interference.
Eight days ago, Trump passed another executive order that automatically places sanctions on people who interfere in America’s elections. “We’re putting pieces in place here to ensure it doesn’t happen again,” Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, told reporters on September 12.
It’s starting to look like Putin’s favored American candidate may finally be serious about pushing back on Russia’s aggression.