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Trump administration sanctions Russian spies, trolls over election interference, cyber attacks

16 March 2018

The White House says President Donald Trump has been "extremely tough on Russia" during his time in office. The new measures, however delayed, amount to the most stringent punishment yet by Trump for Russia's election interference.

Russian Federation has also been accused of being behind a nerve agent attack on one of its former spies in Britain, who had fed information to British authorities, and his daughter. "I had two small children", the Russian president said in the second instalment of the "Putin" documentary, posted on Russian social media. Former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko was poisoned in 2006 and a BuzzFeed News investigation found 14 deaths in the United Kingdom have been linked to Russia by USA intelligence.

Thursday's actions have caused some Russia analysts to ask whether the administration is taking a more confrontational stance despite Trump's repeated statements in the election campaign that he wanted a better relationship with Moscow, his praise for Putin and apparent reluctance to criticize the Russian leader.

Those attacks have been known to the USA government for more than a year, but kept highly classified.

Dmitry Peskov told reporters Wednesday that he's not anxious about relations getting worse after Rex Tillerson's ouster, saying the relationship "can hardly go lower than the floor".

"We're speaking with Theresa May today and, as soon as we get the facts straight, if we agree with them, we will condemn Russian Federation or whoever it may be", the president told reporters. "I've spoken with the (British) prime minister and we are in discussions", he added.

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"His aim is to disrupt every aspect of our lives, right down to having the ability to shut off the power in Americans' homes or businesses".

In doing so, Tillerson went further than White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who earlier the same day had condemned the attack but made no mention of Russian Federation.

All of this occurred after Prime Minister Theresa May announced plans to expel 23 Russian spies and suspend high-level contact with Moscow, and also joined the United States, France and Germany in a statement denouncing Russia's action as a clear violation of global law. On Wednesday, Britain expelled 23 Russian diplomats in retaliation. One U.S. official put the toll at $10 billion.

Republican House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce also said the administration did not go far enough.

Speaking at an emergency Security Council session, Haley on Wednesday also named Russian Federation, saying it was "responsible for the attack on two people in the United Kingdom using a military-grade nerve agent" and calling the attack "an atrocious crime".

Trump told reporters during a White House event with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar that "it certainly looks like the Russians were behind" the use of a nerve agent to attack Sergei Skripal, a former Russian double agent in England.

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This has exasperated Trump, who instructed his team to make sure the United States appeared to be in solidarity with Britain over the nerve agent attack.

Nauert alleged that the residents of Crimea were made to vote under duress during 2014s Crimean status referendum.

The joint statement called the Skripal assassination attempt, which also seriously injured a police officer and others, an assault on Britain's sovereignty as well as a breach of worldwide law and Russia's commitment under the Chemical Weapons Convention.

"Four years ago this week, Russian Federation held an illegitimate, fabricated "referendum" in Ukraine in a futile attempt to legitimize its purported annexation of Ukrainian territory", she alleged.

The sanctions, targeting five Russian organizations and 19 individuals, will generally block them from traveling to the United States, freeze any assets in the country and bar US businesses and individuals from doing business with them.

The change was painful, he said, for nations that "are in the habit of ruling the roost".

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Trump administration sanctions Russian spies, trolls over election interference, cyber attacks