U.S. imposes sanctions on Ukrainians over election interference

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WASHINGTON – The United States on Monday imposed sanctions on several Ukrainian individuals and entities, accusing them of U.S. election interference and associating with a pro-Russian Ukrainian lawmaker linked to efforts by President Donald Trump’s allies to dig up dirt on President-elect Joe Biden and his son.

“Russian disinformation campaigns targeting American citizens are a threat to our democracy,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who has been a close ally of Trump but last week condemned the violence at the U.S. Capitol by a pro-Trump mob, said in a statement.

The U.S. Treasury Department accused the seven individuals and four entities of involvement in a Russia-linked foreign influence network associated with Ukrainian parliamentarian Andriy Derkach. The pro-Russian lawmaker was hit with sanctions by the U.S. government in September over accusations he tried to interfere in the 2020 U.S. election won by Biden.

The action freezes any U.S. 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.

The action was announced nine days before Trump is due to leave office.

The Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives voted to impeach Trump in December 2019 on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress stemming from the Republican president’s request that Ukraine investigate Biden and his son Hunter ahead of the election. The Republican-led Senate in February 2020 voted 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.

Some of the individuals blacklisted on Monday, notably former Ukrainian government officials Andrii Telizhenko and Konstantin Kulyk, were reported in news media accounts to be sources for Giuliani, who traveled to Ukraine to try to prod officials there to investigate the Bidens.

“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 U.S. government.”

The Treasury Department also imposed sanctions on Ukrainian parliamentarian Oleksandr Dubinsky and former Ukrainian official Oleksandr Onyshchenko. It accused Telizhenko, Kulyk, Onyshchenko and Dubinsky of having “publicly appeared or affiliated themselves with Derkach through the coordinated dissemination and promotion of fraudulent and unsubstantiated allegations involving a U.S. political candidate.”

The Treasury Department also blacklisted the Ukrainian website NABU Leaks, the source of leaked audio of conversations between Biden and former Ukrainian leader Petro Poroshenko. NABU Leaks’s publications closely align with Derkach’s agenda and talking points.

Dubinsky in a statement denied interfering in U.S. elections.

“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,” Dubinsky said.

The Poroshenko-Biden conversations have been touted by Trump allies as evidence of alleged corruption by Biden or his family. The tapes provided no evidence of wrongdoing and were consistent with the positions Biden took publicly at the time.

Telizhenko, Kulyk and Derkach did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Trump allies were dismayed about the Treasury Department’s action sanctioning 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 Monday.

The other individuals hit with sanctions included: 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.

The other sanctioned entities were: Only News and Skeptik TOV, which the department said are owned by Zhuravel and spread disinformation in Ukraine; and Era-Media TOV. The department described Derkach as the de facto owner of Era-Media-related companies.

Reuters

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