The Treasury Department on Thursday imposed sanctions on four current and former Ukrainian government officials for engaging in “Russian government-directed influence activities” in Ukraine, including gathering information about the country’s critical infrastructure.
The U.S. alleges that the four individuals — two Ukrainian members of parliament and two former officials — were recruited by Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) in an effort to place “citizens in key positions to gain access to sensitive information, threaten the sovereignty of Ukraine, and then leverage these Ukrainian officials to create instability in advance of a potential Russian invasion,” the Treasury Department said in a statement.
Moscow has directed its intelligence services to seek out such officials in order to “prepare to take over the government of Ukraine and to control Ukraine’s critical infrastructure with an occupying Russian force,” according to the department.
Among the individuals sanctioned is former Ukrainian government official Volodymyr Oliynyk, who is alleged to have worked at the direction of the FSB to gather information about Ukrainian critical infrastructure for Kremlin-backed cyberattacks. Oliynyk has a history of supporting Russia and shares the regime’s anti-Western views. He currently lives in Moscow, after fleeing Ukraine to seek refuge in Russia.
“As in previous Russian incursions into Ukraine, repeated cyber operations against Ukraine’s critical infrastructure are part of Russia’s hybrid tactics to threaten Ukraine,” the Treasury Department noted, a reference to the multiple power outages, believed to have been carried out by Moscow, that have gripped the country over the last several years.
“As Russia has pursued broad cyber operations against critical infrastructure, it has focused on disrupting one critical infrastructure sector in particular: Ukraine’s energy sector.”
The sanctions come amid fears in the U.S. and Europe that Russian President Vladimir Putin will launch an invasion against Ukraine. Russia has massed tens of thousands of troops on its borders with the former Soviet satellite state, though Moscow has denied it is planning an attack.
The websites of more than 70 Ukrainian government agencies and private sector organizations were defaced in a coordinated effort earlier this month and a destructive malware was deployed against the country.
Ukrainian officials blame Russia for the digital assaults.
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