On 29 December 2016, US President Barack Obama authorised sanctions against 11 Russian entities and individuals, including two key Russian intelligence services ─ the Federal Security Service (FSB) and Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) ─ over alleged cyber-attacks against the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and attempts to influence the 2016 US election.
Four top GRU officers, including the Chief, Deputy Chief and First Deputy Chiefs, have been designated, along with three companies that provided material support to the GRU’s cyber operations. Two individuals have also been designated for using cyber-enabled means for personal financial gain.
This is the most extensive US response to a state-sponsored cyber-attack. Along with the Executive Order designation, the US State Department also declared 35 Russian government personnel as persona non grata, with a 72-hour notice period to leave the US. The Department also closed two estates in Maryland and New York that it claimed were used for “Russian intelligence-related purposes”.
Despite the US government’s strong response, evidence tying the GRU or FSB to a plan to influence the election is lacking. A 29 December Joint Analysis Report conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Homeland Security detailed Russian military and civilian intelligence services’ capabilities associated with cyber-attacks. But the report fell short in identifying any Russian intelligence election interference.
The timing of the sanctions is notable. They come less than a month before president-elect Donald Trump is sworn into office, leaving him to decide whether the latest sanctions should be lifted in a move contrary to what the majority of the Republican party want. It is unlikely the new designations will have a significant impact on either of the Russian intelligence agencies, which generally do not hold assets in the US and whose officials rarely travel there.
Nonetheless, the allegations that Russia was behind cyber operations that affected the US elections are serious and have driven Republications to hold Congressional hearings. Given the power of Congress in adopting sanctions and the traditional viewpoint held by Congressional Republicans that the US and Russia are strategic rivals, it is unclear whether the Trump administration could reset relations with Russia even if it was minded to do so. This uncertainty also affects other sanctions on Russia, including those related to the country’s annexation of Crimea. As a result, it remains unclear whether the US – and indeed the EU – will maintain or ease their Russia sanctions regime in 2017.
The individuals added to the sanctions list are as follows:
- KOROBOV, Igor Valentinovich (Chief, GRU)
- GIZUNOV, Sergey Aleksandrovich (Deputy Chief, GRU)
- ALEXSEYEV, Vladimir Stepanovich (First Deputy Chief, GRU)
- KOSTYUKOV, Igor Olegovich (First Deputy Chief, GRU)
- BELAN, Aleksey Alekseyevich
- BOGACHEV, Evgeniy Mikhaylovich
The entities added to the sanctions list are as follows:
- Federal Security Service (FSB)
- Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU)
- Special Technology Centre
- Autonomous Non-Commercial Organization Professional Association of Designers of Data Processing Systems
The US White House and Treasury announcement can be found here:
Project Alpha has launched a new research initiative focused on identifying Russian sanctioned and non-sanctioned organisations and networks involved in Russia’s strategic industries.