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‘Russia-linked’ individuals, including Ukrainian lawmaker, blacklisted over US election interference

U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Steven T. Mnuchin visiting Jet Blue's Long Island City Support Center to meet with the company's leadership and crew members Friday, March 9, 2018 in Queens, New York. (Kevin C. Downs/New York Daily News/TNS)
September 12, 2020

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

The United States says it has imposed sanctions on a Ukrainian lawmaker behind leaked telephone records of Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden, as well as three other “Russia-linked” individuals accused of attempting to influence the U.S. electoral process.

The U.S. Treasury Department said in a statement on September 10 that it had blacklisted Andriy Derkach along with three Russian nationals said to be employees of the Internet Research Agency (IRA), the so-called troll factory based in St. Petersburg that was involved in what the U.S. intelligence community said was an attempt by the Kremlin to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.

Separately, the Justice Department said it had filed criminal charges of election interference against one of the Russians for stealing American identities, opening fraudulent banking accounts, and promoting messaging aimed at undermining confidence in the political system.

Derkach has been helping U.S. President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani find compromising information in Ukraine on Biden, who served as the Obama administration’s point man to Kyiv following the 2014 revolution that pushed a pro-Russian president from office.

The Treasury Department said Derkach “has close connections” with the Russian intelligence for over a decade.

“Russia uses a variety of proxies to attempt to sow discord between political parties and drive internal divisions to influence voters as part of Moscow’s broader efforts to undermine democratic countries and institutions,” it said.

In the United States, it said Russia had “used a wide range of influence methods and actors to target our electoral process,” including targeting candidates in the November presidential election.

Between May and July, Derkach released edited audio tapes from 2016 of Biden’s conversations with then-Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.

On the tapes, Biden appears to tell Poroshenko that the U.S. will provide a $1 billion loan guarantee to Ukraine once the government replaces its top prosecutor.

U.S. and Western officials complained the prosecutor was failing to fight corruption and welcomed his eventual removal.

However, Giuliani with the help of Derkach has tried to push a widely dismissed theory that Biden sought to get the Ukrainian prosecutor dismissed to protect his son, Hunter Biden, who sat on the board of a controversial Kyiv-based natural gas company.

‘Unsubstantiated Allegations’

The Treasury Department said the tapes published by Derkach were intended “to discredit U.S. officials” and the he “levied unsubstantiated allegations” against American and foreign political figures.

“Derkach almost certainly targeted the U.S. voting populace, prominent U.S. persons, and members of the U.S. government, based on his reliance on U.S. platforms, English-language documents and videos, and pro-Russian lobbyists in the United States used to propagate his claims,” it said in its statement.

Derkach’s designation “is a clear signal to Moscow and its proxies that this activity will not be tolerated,” the Treasury Department said.

Three “employees of the IRA” — Russian nationals Artem Lifshits, Anton Andreyev, and Darya Aslanova” – were also sanctioned because they had “supported the IRA’s cryptocurrency accounts.” Lifshits is the Russian facing criminal charges in the United States.

The IRA, which was previously designated by the TreasuryDepartment for its interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, “uses cryptocurrency to fund activities in furtherance of their ongoing malign influence operations around the world,” the Treasury Department said.

The United States had previously said that the IRA is funded by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Kremlin insider known as “Putin’s Chef.”

The Treasury Department’s move freezes any U.S. assets of those blacklisted and bars Americans from dealing with them.

Derkach “and other Russian agents employ manipulation and deceit to attempt to influence elections in the United States and elsewhere around the world,” Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin said.

“The United States will continue to use all the tools at its disposal to counter these Russian disinformation campaigns and uphold the integrity of our election system,” he added.