U.S. Treasury levels New Sanctions Against Russia

The U.S. announced new economic sanctions against Russia this morning for their role in meddling in the 2016 presidential election as well as other acts of aggression having to do with cyber-espionage.

“Treasury sanctions Russian cyber actors for interference with the 2016 U.S. Elections and malicious cyber-attacks. CAATSA sanctions are part of a broader effort to address the ongoing nefarious attacks emanating from Russia,” the Treasury Department wrote on its official Twitter account this morning.

The sanctions target thirteen individuals and entities indicted by special counsel Robert Mueller last month for their role in the interference campaign into the 2016 U.S. presidential election.  Additional sanctions were also placed on the FSB – Russia’s security service and successor to the KGB, the GRU – Russia’s military intelligence service, and six officers of the GRU.

Sanctions were levelled against the FSB for, among other acts of hostility, using cyber tools to target Russian journalists and political opposition leaders, to target foreign government officials, including military and White House personnel, and for their involvement in the 2014 hacking of Yahoo!, which compromised millions of accounts.

The GRU was sanctioned for their role in the 2016 presidential election interference, as well as for a 2017 cyber-attack that scrambled file systems of computers all over the world and caused billions of dollars in damage across Europe, Asia and the U.S.  The NotPetya attack, as it’s come to be known, disrupted global shipping, trade and even medicine production.  Several hospitals in the U.S. were unable to create electronic medical records for their patients for more than a week because of the strike.

Attribution of the cyber-attack was made to the Russian government earlier this year by both the U.S. and British governments.

The U.S. sanctions come at a time of heightened tensions between Moscow and the West.  British Prime Minister Theresa May announced a series of measures yesterday aimed at degrading Russian espionage networks in the U.S.  The moves come in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack carried out on a former Russian security official who has been living in England since 2010.

This morning, the leaders of France, Germany, the U.K. as well as the U.S., issued a joint statement criticizing Russia for the attack and warning the Russian government about its actions.

“This use of a military-grade nerve agent, of a type developed by Russia, constitutes the first offensive use of a nerve agent in Europe since the Second World War. It is an assault on the United Kingdom’s sovereignty and any such use by a state party is a clear violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention and a breach of international law. It threatens the security of us all,” the statement read.

“Our concerns are also heightened against the background of a pattern of earlier irresponsible Russian behavior. We call on Russia to live up to its responsibilities as a member of the U.N. Security Council to uphold international peace and security,” it added.

Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) welcomed the sanctions-announcement but questioned what their effectiveness will ultimately be.

“Russia is on course to do what Russia is going to do. I think it’s good that we’re doing it … but I think they are going to continue to attempt to create the kind of disharmony that they have been good at doing,” Corker said to reporters today.

Others however, saw it as a welcome step, and wanted to see President Trump’s rhetoric on Russia become even sharper.

“I think this is a good step. It is not fully sufficient,” Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) said today.  “What continues to concern to me is that while you had the administration act, there continues to be a reluctance by the president himself to call out Russia as a bad actor.”



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U.S. Treasury Secretary Mnuchin: Sanctions Against Russia Are on the Way

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin told the Senate Finance Committee today that the Trump administration is planning to implement new sanctions against Russia for meddling in the 2016 election.  “We are actively working on Russia sanctions coming out of the classified briefing.  I can assure you those sanctions are coming. We are working on them as we speak,” Mnuchin said.

Mnuchin was pressed by Democrats on the lack of new sanctions by the administration during the hearing.

Congress passed a bill last July requiring the imposition of new sanctions against individuals and businesses doing significant business with Russia’s defense and intelligence industries.  The deadline for the new sanctions was last month.  The White House informed Congress at that time that it would forgo new sanctions.

A clause in the bill allows the administration to decline new sanctions if it notifies Congress that potential targets are “substantially reducing” their business with the related sectors.  The administration essentially did that, saying sanctions are unnecessary as the authorization of new sanctions by Congress is already having the desired effect.

The next deadline for the imposing of sanctions against Russia by the administration would be late July.  It’s unclear whether the sanctions Mnuchin alluded to would come at that time or before.


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North Korea Believed to Have Earned $200 Million in Trade that Evaded Sanctions Last Year, According to U.N.

North Korea has earned nearly $200 million in 2017 from exports that violated sanctions according to report written by U.N. monitors.

The report, which has been sent to a U.N. Security Council sanctions committee, said North Korea had shipped coal to Russia, China and South Korea among other places.  The report also says North Korea has shipped weapons to Syria and Myanmar.  The shipments were conducted mainly using false paperwork showing other countries, such as Russia and China, as the points of origin.

“The DPRK (North Korea) is already flouting the most recent resolutions by exploiting global oil supply chains, complicit foreign nationals, offshore company registries and the international banking system,” the report states.

The U.N. has been imposing sanctions on the North Korean regime since 2006 in an effort to shut off funding for its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.  The latest round of sanctions occurred in December when the U.N. voted to cut oil exports to the country by about 90%.

Russia and China have denied aiding North Korea in evading sanctions.


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CIA Director Pushes Back on Schumer, Nothing “Untoward” About Meeting with Russian Counterparts

CIA Director Mike Pompeo responded to a letter from Democratic Senate Leader Chuck Schumer raising concerns about a meeting Pompeo had with the head of Russia’s top spy agency.

Pompeo said that Schumer implied there was something “untoward” about the meeting. “Let me assure you there is not,” Pompeo wrote.  “We periodically meet with our Russian intelligence counterparts for the same reason our predecessors did—to keep Americans safe.”

Schumer was questioning a recent meeting between Pompeo and Sergey Naryshkin, the director of Russia’s foreign intelligence service at the same time the Trump administration was deciding not to impose sanctions on Russia.  That decision was announced earlier this week.

Pompeo pushed back on the implication, saying that talks with his Russian counterparts are always frank, and businesslike.  “Neither side is bashful about raising concerns relating to our intelligence relationships and the interests of our respective nations. We vigorously defend America in these encounters and pull no punches — we never will,” Pompeo wrote.

The Russian ambassador to the U.S. Anatoly Antonov also characterized the talks as ordinary, as well as productive.  “You probably remember that Vladimir [Putin] called Donald Trump and thanked him for help, for the information that was received through the line with the CIA, and thanks to that [we] were able to prevent a horrible act of terrorism in St. Petersburg,” Antonov said.

Pompeo also wrote that while it’s understood that Russia is an adversary, he said that American lives would be at “greater risk if we ignored opportunities to work with the Russian services in the fight against terrorism.”

Schumer has also sent a letter to the Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats today, asking if Naryshkin met with any other officials while in the U.S. and why Naryshkin who is under sanctions that should have barred him from entry was allowed to travel to the U.S.


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Trump Administration Submits List of Russian Oligarchs Required by Congress, Copies Names from Forbes.com

The Trump administration admits that it derived a list of wealthy Russian oligarchs that it was required to submit to Congress from a list of wealthy Russian businessmen on Forbes.com.  Asked if there was any truth to the rumors that the list was inspired from the Forbes list, a Treasury spokesperson said, “yes.”

“The names of and net worth of oligarchs in the unclassified version of the report were selected based on objective criteria drawn from publicly available sources,” the official said.  A classified version of the list reportedly includes additional names.

According to a law passed in July, the Treasury Department was supposed to submit a report identifying significant senior political figures and oligarchs in Russia as determined by their “closeness to the Russian regime and their net worth.”  The report was also supposed to determine the level of closeness of those on the list to Russian President Vladimir Putin in particular, as well as the level of corruption associated with those individuals.

The report was to be called the “Kremlin list” and the deadline for submitting it was yesterday. Officials from various government agencies, according to reports, followed Congress’ instructions and produced a credible intelligence product.

But at the last minute, someone within the administration threw that report out and instead wrote down 114 names of Russian government officials from the Kremlin’s website, and ninety-six names from a Forbes list of Russian billionaires.

Democrats on Capitol Hill reacted angrily, feeling the administration is thumbing its nose at the bill Congress passed.  “We expected the administration to take this issue seriously,” said Sen. Ben Cardin, the Democratic ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Earlier in the day, Senators reacted with confusion about the administration’s decision to not level sanctions against Russia for their meddling in the 2016 presidential election.  The sanctions directive was another provision laid out in the bill.

“That is perplexing to me,” said Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine.  The bill was “not partisan in the least,” she said.

There were five combined no votes in the House and the Senate when Congress passed the bill in July.

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White House Defies Congress, Says No New Russian Sanctions Needed at This Time

The Trump administration has declined to impose new sanctions against Russia, saying that a bill passed by Congress last year authorizing new sanctions is itself working adequately.

“Given the long time frames generally associated with major defense deals, the results of this effort are only beginning to become apparent. From that perspective, if the law is working, sanctions on specific entities or individuals will not need to be imposed because the legislation is, in fact, serving as a deterrent,” a State Department spokesperson said.

Congress passed a bill last July requiring the imposition of new sanctions against individuals and businesses doing significant business with Russia’s defense and intelligence industries.  The deadline for the new sanctions was Monday.  The White House informed Congress late yesterday that it would forgo new sanctions.

A clause in the bill allows the administration to decline new sanctions if it notifies Congress that potential targets are “substantially reducing” their business with the related sectors.  The administration essentially did that, saying sanctions are unnecessary as the authorization of new sanctions by Congress is already having the desired effect.

Individuals and businesses “have been put on notice, both publicly and privately, including by the highest-level State Department and other U.S. government officials where appropriate, that significant transactions with listed Russian entities will result in sanctions,” the spokesperson added.

In addition to the new sanctions, the July bill also required the administration to put together a list of wealthy Russian oligarchs with close, personal ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, as well as a report on the consequences of sanctioning Russia’s sovereign debt.  The deadline for those items was also yesterday.  The administration released an unclassified version of the oligarch list late in the day after it was announced they would not be leveling new sanctions.  The Treasury Department noted that the list was “not a sanctions list” and that individuals on it do not “meet the criteria for designation under any sanctions program.”

The list contained 114 senior political figures in Russia, as well as ninety-six oligarchs with close ties to Putin.  It is unknown whether Congress received Russian sovereign debt report yesterday, as that report is likely to contain classified information.  “Further details are contained in a classified report we have submitted to Congress,” the State Department spokesperson said.

The White House signaled on Monday that the sanctions would be implemented in a timely fashion.  Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah said the Treasury Department was expected take the process “the next step forward.”  The next time the administration is required to notify Congress of the status of the sanctions bill is in 180 days, or late July.

The ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Ben Cardin of Maryland said that that he expected communication with the administration to continue.  “The U.S. should be prepared to impose sanctions when the law is clearly violated,” Cardin said. “The administration should not rest in these efforts and I expect a frequent and regular dialogue on this issue.”

Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine expressed confusion at the administration’s reluctance to execute a bill that passed with such overwhelming bipartisan support.  The bill was “not partisan in the least,” Collins said.

There were only five no votes in both the House and the Senate when the bill was passed.


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