By Steve Holland and Doina Chiacu
The United States slapped sanctions on Russian individuals and entities for U.S. election meddling and cyber attacks but put off targeting oligarchs and government officials close to President Vladimir Putin, prompting lawmakers in both parties to say President Donald Trump needs to do much more
With the United States under pressure to act, the steps announced by the U.S. Treasury Department represented the most significant taken against Moscow since Trump assumed office in January 2017.
Along with imposing sanctions on 19 individuals and five entities including Russian intelligence services, the Trump administration publicly blamed Moscow for the first time for a campaign of cyber attacks stretching back at least two years that targeted the U.S. power grid including nuclear facilities.
The United States also joined Britain, Germany and France in demanding that Russia explain a military-grade nerve toxin attack in England on a former Russian double agent, with Trump saying: “It certainly looks like the Russians were behind” the incident.
But congressional critics called the administration’s action a woefully inadequate retaliation for Russia interference in the 2016 U.S. election and other actions.
“The sanctions today are a grievous disappointment and fall far short of what is needed to respond to that attack on our democracy let alone deter Russia’s escalating aggression, which now includes a chemical weapons attack on the soil of our closest ally,” said Adam Schiff, top Democrat on the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee.
“Today’s action, using authorities provided by Congress, is an important step by the administration. But more must be done,” Republican House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce added. He later urged Trump to sanction Russia for the poisoning in Britain.
Trump has faced fierce criticism in the United States for doing too little to punish Russia for the election meddling and other actions, and Special Counsel Robert Mueller is looking into whether Trump’s campaign colluded with the Russians, an allegation the president denies.
Sixteen of the Russian individuals and entities sanctioned were indicted on Feb. 16 as part of Mueller’s criminal investigation.
“They didn’t hit Putin’s power structure and they didn’t team up with Europe,” Brian O’Toole, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council think tank and a former senior adviser at the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, said of the administration’s actions.
A senior administration official told Reuters that Trump, who campaigned on warmer ties with Putin, had grown exasperated with Russian activity. “A classic bully,” the official said of Putin.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders, asked if Russia was a friend or foe, told reporters: “Russia is going to have to make that determination. They’re going to have to decide whether they want to be a good actor or a bad actor.”
In Moscow, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Russia was preparing retaliatory measures, as U.S.-Russian relations plunged again.
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