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US imposes new sanctions targeting Russian ‘troll farm,’ owner Prigozhin

Russian President Vladimir Putin in St. Petersburg. (The Kremlin/Released)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Washington has imposed sanctions on several entities and people associated with the Internet Research Agency and its financier, Yevgeny Prigozhin, in connection with Russian interference in U.S. elections.

“In renewed action, the Treasury Department is increasing its pressure against Yevgeny Prigozhin by not only calling out his support for the Internet Research Agency in connection with its efforts to interfere in the 2018 U.S. midterm elections, but also identifying his personal property, including several private jets and a yacht,” the Treasury Department said in a statement on September 30.

The Internet Research Agency, a St. Petersburg-based organization known as the Russian “troll farm” owned by the Kremlin-connected businessman, was also mentioned repeatedly by U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller in his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

In February 2018, the Justice Department indicted the Internet Research Agency and two other companies controlled by Prigozhin — Concord Management and Concord Catering — as well as Prigozhin himself and 15 other Russian individuals for alleged fraud “for the purpose of interfering with the U.S. political and electoral processes, including the presidential election of 2016.”

Prigozhin, who is sometimes called “Putin’s chef” because of his catering businesses, also controls the Vagner private security firm, which has sent Russian mercenaries to fight in Ukraine, Syria, and several African countries.

In 2016, Washington slapped personal sanctions on Prigozhin in connection with his support of Moscow’s 2014 annexation of the Ukrainian region of Crimea. In June 2017, sanctions were imposed on Concord Management for its alleged involvement in the Russia-backed war in parts of eastern Ukraine.

The September 30 Treasury Department statement emphasized that the activities of Prigozhin and the Internet Research Agency did not compromise the legitimacy of the 2018 elections.

The new sanctions cover three legal entities registered in the Seychelles and six Russian citizens believed to have ties to the Internet Research Agency.

The Treasury statement identified three private jets and a yacht as being registered to entities tied to Prigozhin.

“Let this serve as a warning: any actors who continue to engage with these individuals, companies, aircraft or vessel may also be subject to future sanctions,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.

“We have been clear: We will not tolerate foreign interference in our elections,” he said.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that free and fair elections were “the cornerstone of American democracy,” adding, “We will use our authorities against anyone seeking to undermine our processes and subversively influence voters.”

The Treasury statement said the U.S. government was “safeguarding our democratic processes from adversaries — primarily Russia, Iran, and China — that may be seeking to influence” the 2020 presidential election.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry called on Washington to “stop the pointless game of sanctions,” saying they “bring zero results.”