Publish: 12 Jan 2021, 12:26 pm
On Monday, the United States imposed sanctions on a number of Ukrainian individuals and entities, charging them with US electoral interference, and associating them with a pro-Russian Ukrainian lawmaker linked to President Donald Trump's allies' efforts to crack down on President-elect Joe Biden and his son.
"Russian disinformation campaigns targeting American citizens are a threat to our democracy," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, an ally of Trump who last week condemned the violence at the US Capitol by a pro-Trump mob, said in a statement, reports Reuters.
The US Treasury Department accused seven individuals and four entities of participating in a Russian-linked foreign influence network associated with Ukrainian MP Andriy Derkach. The pro-Russian lawmaker was fined by the US government in September on charges that he tried to interfere with the 2020 US election won by Biden.
The action freezes any US assets of those blacklisted and generally bars Americans from doing business with them.
"The United States will continue to aggressively defend the integrity of our election systems and processes," Mnuchin added.
Trump is due to leave office on January 20.
The Democratic-led US House of Representatives voted to denounce Trump in December 2019 on charges of abuse of power and obstruction by Congress as a result of the Republican President's request that Ukraine investigate Biden and his son Hunter in advance of the election. The Republican-led Senate voted in February 2020 to keep Trump in office.
Derkach has been a key figure in promoting unsubstantiated allegations that Hunter Biden improperly used his influence with his father - vice president at the time - to help Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company on whose board he sat, and that Joe Biden improperly pressured Ukraine to fire a top prosecutor who had investigated the firm.
These allegations, intended to harm Biden's candidacy, have been seized upon by Trump, his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and some Republican lawmakers.
Derkach said in a statement those blacklisted were being punished for exposing alleged corruption.
Trump allies were dismayed about the sanctions against Ukrainians who had served as sources for Giuliani when he was trying to collect information on Hunter Biden, a source close to the president's legal advisers said.
Some of the blacklisted individuals, notably former Ukrainian government officials Andrii Telizhenko and Konstantin Kulyk, were reported in news media accounts to be sources for Giuliani.
Democratic Senator Mark Warner, set to become chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, said, "Much of the false information spread about President-elect Biden during and since the campaign had its roots in the entities being sanctioned today, as we saw Russian entities seed or amplify dangerous narratives that gained significant traction in far-right media."
Also blacklisted were: Ukrainian parliamentarian Oleksandr Dubinsky; former Ukrainian official Oleksandr Onyshchenko; Petro Zhuravel, a member of Derkach's media team; Derkach supporter Dmytro Kovalchuk; and Anton Simonenko, who the Treasury Department said served as Derkach's assistant and helped him hide financial assets.
Among the blacklisted entities was the Ukrainian website NABU Leaks, a source of leaked audio conversations between Biden and former Ukrainian leader Petro Poroshenko. The content of the website is closely aligned with Derkach's agenda and talk points.
Dubinsky in a statement said, "Once again I declare that I have never interfered in elections in other states, including the American election, and never have anything to do with the publications or other similar actions of the so-called Poroshenko-Biden tapes."
Simonenko declined to comment, Telizhenko and Kulyk did not immediately respond to requests for comment and Zhuravel could not be reached for comment.
"We didn't expect such a broad list sanctioned under the ongoing administration," Ukrainian anti-corruption activist Daria Kaleniuk said. "To me it is a good sign of the checks and balances system which still works in the US government."