• As West calls on Moscow to explain nerve toxin attack on ex-spy
The United States yesterday took its most notable action against Russia since Donald Trump became president, slapping sanctions on five institutions and 19 individuals tied to Russia’s government, including Moscow’s intelligence services, for meddling in the 2016 US election and malicious cyber attacks.
The sanctions push came as Trump said it “looks like” Russia was behind the poisoning of Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Britain. “It certainly looks like the Russians were behind it,” Trump said, following fury in Great Britain over the poisoning using a chemical agent that is manufactured in Russia.
“Something that should never ever happen. And we’re taking it very seriously as I think are many others,” Trump said. “Something that should never ever happen,” said Trump of the poison attack on a retired Russian spy in Britain
Under pressure to act, the administration still deferred making a move targeting Russian government officials and oligarchs, those closest to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Yesterday’s announcement marked the first time that the US government stated publicly that Russia had attempted to break into the American energy grid, which US security officials have longed warned may be vulnerable to debilitating cyber attacks from hostile adversaries.
Trump has faced fierce criticism in the United States for doing too little to punish Russia for the election meddling and other actions, and a special counsel is looking into whether Trump’s campaign colluded with the Russians, an allegation the president denies. Combined with the United States joining Britain in blaming Moscow for poisoning a former Russian spy in southern England, the actions represented another plunge in U.S.-Russian relations despite Trump’s stated desire for improved ties.
“The administration is confronting and countering malign Russian cyber activity, including their attempted interference in U.S. elections, destructive cyber-attacks, and intrusions targeting critical infrastructure,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in announcing the new sanctions.
Meanwhile, Britain, the United States, Germany and France jointly called on Russia yesterday to explain a military-grade nerve toxin attack in England on a former Russian double agent, which they said threatened Western security.
After the first known offensive use of such a weapon on European soil since World War Two, Britain has pinned the blame on Moscow and given 23 Russians who it said were spies working under diplomatic cover at the London embassy a week to leave.
Moscow has denied any involvement in the poisoning. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused London of behaving in a “boorish” way and suggested this was partly due to the problems Britain faces over its planned exit from the European Union next year.
Russia has refused Britain’s demands to explain how Novichok, a nerve agent first developed by the Soviet military, was used to strike down Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the southern English city of Salisbury.
“We call on Russia to address all questions related to the attack,” U.S. President Donald Trump, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Theresa May said in their joint statement.
“It is an assault on UK sovereignty,” the leaders said. “It threatens the security of us all.”
While the statement signals a more coordinated response from Britain’s closest allies, it lacked any details about specific measures the West would take if Russia failed to comply.
The Western leaders said the use of the toxin was a clear breach of the Chemical Weapons Convention and international law. They called on Russia to provide a complete disclosure of the Novichok program to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in The Hague.
Russia has repeatedly asked Britain to supply a sample of the nerve agent. Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said neither Russia nor the Soviet Union had run a program to develop Novichok.