On Thursday, the Trump administration announced that it will finally enact sanctions against Russia for meddling in the 2016 election. Congress voted to force the president to do so last summer, giving him an October deadline for a sanctions plan and a January deadline for implementing it. President Trump didn't meet either deadline. He's just now beginning the planned punishments — a month and a half after he was supposed to.
The sanctions affect five entities and 19 people. One of the organizations that's being particularly punished is the "Internet Research Agency," the group behind many of the social media posts that Russia produced under fake names during the campaign. Also on the list is Yevgeniy Viktorovich Prigozhin, an oligarch sometimes called "Putin's chef," who financially supported the agency. Other sanctioned individuals include Russians who pretended to be Americans when they posted political content online.
The sanctions bill passed by Congress in August was a rare example of bipartisanship in this federal government's starkly divided climate. Trump signed it, but he did so unenthusiastically — and in his words, only "for the sake of national unity." He called the measure "seriously flawed" and said that "it encroaches on the executive branch's authority to negotiate." He has seemed reluctant to actually follow through on the conditions of the bill since then, though Thursday's wave of sanctions is an exception.
The sanctions will freeze assets held in the United States by the targeted people, prevent them from traveling to the States, and also force American citizens to "generally" stop doing business with them. The New York Times called the measures "the most significant action taken against Moscow since Mr. Trump took office."
The Trump administration's justification for the sanctions isn't purely Russia's interference in the election. In its announcement, the Treasury Department noted that they were also a consequence of Russia's involvement in the June 2017 NotPetya cyberattack. NotPetya mainly targeted Ukraine, flooding computers in the country's government, banks, energy organizations, and in an airport. Russia has been executing a campaign of aggression against Ukraine since it annexed Crimea in 2014.
A White House official told journalists on Thursday that the administration will continue to punish Russia, saying: "By no means will this constitute the end to our ongoing campaign to instruct Mr. Putin to change his behavior."
Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin agreed in a statement on Thursday. "These targeted sanctions are a part of a broader effort to address the ongoing nefarious attacks emanating from Russia," he said.
Treasury intends to impose additional CAATSA sanctions, informed by our intelligence community, to hold Russian government officials and oligarchs accountable for their destabilizing activities by severing their access to the U.S. financial system.
Meanwhile, the Trump administration is putting pressure on Russia in other ways. The White House publicized a statement on Thursday that its officials, as well as leaders from Britain, Germany, and France, jointly signed to condemn Russia for allegedly conducting a nerve agent attack in the United Kingdom.
"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," the statement read. "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."
Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders declined to blame Russia for the attack earlier in the week, but the White House appeared to change course with the joint statement. In an interview on Thursday, Trump noted that he thought that the Kremlin was at fault, saying, "It certainly looks like the Russians were behind it."