President Donald Trump condemned Vladimir Putin’s government Thursday for its multiple cyberattacks on the United States and imposed tough new financial sanctions on five Russian entities and 19 individuals, including several who are close associates of Moscow’s leader.
Many of Trump’s vocal critics in the media and politics have long accused Trump of being “soft” on Russia and catering to Putin. But in addition to the new sanctions, Trump also issued a joint statement Thursday with British Prime Minister Theresa May, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel condemning Russia’s alleged involvement in the March 4 chemical weapons attack on an ex-Russian spy and his daughter in Salisbury, U.K.
“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 world leaders’ joint statement read. “It is an assault on U.K. sovereignty, and any such use by a state party is a clear violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention and a breach of international law. It threatens the security of us all.”
The U.S. Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued a statement announcing the Trump administration’s sanctions against the Russians reportedly involved in U.S. cyberattacks, citing violations under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).
“The administration is confronting and countering malign Russian cyberactivity, including their attempted interference in U.S. elections, destructive cyberattacks, and intrusions targeting critical infrastructure,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in the statement.
“These targeted sanctions are a part of a broader effort to address the ongoing nefarious attacks emanating from Russia,” Mnuchin added. “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.”
The Trump administration’s sanctions came roughly a month after special counsel Robert Mueller indicted 13 Russians and three Russian companies in connection with 2016 U.S. election interference.
Media outlets were quick to label Trump as a Putin apologist when he declined to impose new sanctions against Russia after a congressionally mandated deadline to do so passed earlier in the year. Thursday’s sanctions prompted a CNN article headlined “Trump administration finally announces Russia sanctions over election meddling.”
The Guardian (U.K.) published an op-ed in February asking, “If Trump has nothing to hide, why is he so soft on Russia?” The San Francisco Chronicle’s editorial board wrote in late January that “Trump’s soft-pedaling puts Russia first.”
NBC News tweeted in late January, “Trump administration’s latest moves fuel further questions about whether the president is too soft on Russia.” A USA Today columnist wrote in late January, “President Trump’s 2017 performance review, from Putin with love.”
But Trump and members of his administration insist that they haven’t been soft on Putin or Russia. In late January, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said on CNN’s “New Day” that Trump is “not soft on Russia.”
“This president has been very tough about energy, about ISIS, and we’re trying to work together with Russia on big issues of the day like a denuclearized North Korea, which is everybody’s business,” Conway said.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said during a late February briefing that Trump “has done a number of things to put pressure on Russia and be tough on Russia,” claiming that Trump “has been tougher on Russia in the first year than Obama was in eight years combined.”