In a wholly unexpected development, the Trump administration has finally leveled sanctions against Russia over election meddling. The move comes, interestingly, on the same day that a joint statement arrived from President Trump and leaders of Great Britain, France, and Germany over the Kremlin’s alleged attempted murder of an ex-Russian spy. Vladimir Putin has denied the poisoning accusation, just like he’s denied interfering in the 2016 U.S. election in an effort to get Trump elected. However, any lingering goodwill between the U.S. and Russia has hit the skids — two months after Trump declined to enforce sanctions approved by Congress in 2017.
As the New York Times reveals, many of those Russian organizations and individuals who have been targeted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller have also now been targeted by the fresh sanctions. While it’s hellaciously awkward to think that the same administration who arguably benefited from Kremlin-affiliated trolls is now leveling punishment against Russia, that’s exactly what’s happening. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin issued a statement:
“The administration is confronting and countering malign Russian cyberactivity, including their attempted interference in U.S. 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.”
In addition to the matter of election interference, the sanctions also respond to a number of cyberattacks by Russian operatives and a previously unknown attack on the U.S. power grid (that tactic is nothing new from Russia’s arsenal). What shall happen due to these sanctions? 19 individuals will be barred from entering the U.S., have assets frozen, and suffer other business-related hurdles. In addition, the Trump administration also sanctioned K.G.B. successor Federal Security Service (F.S.B.) and Russian military intelligence (G.R.U.).
One major question remains on this matter — will Trump tweet about this bold move against Russia? He previously tweeted that the Justice Department’s indictment of Russians proved “no collusion” with his campaign, so we might see something similar at any moment. Or perhaps John Kelly hid the POTUS phone … one never knows.
UPDATE #1 – 11:50pm EST: While in the Oval Office with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, Trump spoke after the sanctions were issued, but he ignored a pool question on that subject. He did, however, address the poisoning of the ex-Russian spy as “very sad.”