Russians punished for United States election tampering and cyber intrusion

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"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.

Besides the sanctions, the leaders of Britain, France, Germany and the United States released a joint statement on Thursday, saying there was "no plausible alternative explanation" for the use of a military-grade nerve agent to "murder" former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter.

A senior administration told reporters on a conference call that Russian actors infiltrated parts of the US energy sector.

Max Bergmann, a former Obama administration official who heads the investigative Moscow Project at the Center for American Progress, called Thursday's sanctions "a baby step" that does not suggest the administration intends to use much of the authority it has to go after Russian interference.

Republican Ed Royce, chairman of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, welcomed the new sanctions as an important step.

Moving forward, the Trump administration needs to keep sanctions in place until the damage is reversed or Russian Federation changes its behavior.

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The Trump administration on Thursday took its strongest action to date to punish Moscow for interfering in the 2016 election, imposing fresh financial sanctions on Russian government hackers and spy agencies.

Trump had said at the outset of his administration that he wanted to improve the disastrous USA relationship with Russian Federation that he inherited from the Obama administration, a foreign policy goal that could help the United States achieve its own objectives in the Middle East and elsewhere. "A classic bully", the official said of Putin.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders would not say Thursday whether the administration considers Russian Federation a friend or foe, instead turning the onus on Moscow. "They're going to have to decide whether they want to be a good actor or a bad actor". -Russian relations plunged again.

"The Administration is confronting and countering malign Russian cyber activity, including their attempted interference in USA elections, destructive cyber-attacks, and intrusions targeting critical infrastructure", Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin said in a statement, noting that the targeted sanctions are "a part of a broader effort to address the ongoing nefarious attacks emanating from Russia".

Trump has frequently questioned a January 2017 finding by USA intelligence agencies that Russian Federation interfered in the 2016 campaign using hacking and propaganda in an effort eventually aimed at tilting the race in Trump's favor. Russian Federation has flouted USA and global law in its cyberattacks and election meddling. "I think you can see from the actions that we've taken up until this point, we're going to be tough on Russian Federation until they decide to change their behavior".

"Putin constantly attacks our friends".

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"I expect to see additional sanctions in short order against specific Russian entities responsible for undermining our democracy", he said in a statement. The U.S. must hold Russian Federation accountable for its actions.

The sanctions prompted a swift threat of retaliation from Moscow, which said a response was already being prepared.

Russian government hackers since at least March 2016 "have also targeted USA government entities and multiple US critical infrastructure sectors, including the energy, nuclear, commercial facilities, water, aviation, and critical manufacturing sectors", a Treasury Department statement said.

"We were able to identify where they were located within those business systems and remove them from those business systems", the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

British Prime Minister Theresa May on Wednesday announced that her government would expel 23 Russian diplomats and told them to leave within a week. Trump called it "something that should never, ever happen, and we're taking it very seriously, as I think are many others". Those targets include officials working for the Russian military intelligence agency, GRU.

Thursday's action blocks all property of those targeted that is subject to US jurisdiction and prohibits American citizens from engaging in transactions with them.

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The US also hit targeted Russians with sanctions for alleged election meddling for the first time since Trump took office.

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