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With Sanctions on Russians, U.S. Warns Against Foreign Election Meddling

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WASHINGTON — The United States issued new economic sanctions on Monday against seven Russians linked to an internet troll factory in what Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called a warning to foreigners who seek to interfere in American elections.

The penalties were announced as Congress is investigating whether President Trump tried to enlist Ukraine’s leader in a political smear campaign against one of his top Democratic challengers in 2020, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.

“We have been clear: We will not tolerate foreign interference in our elections,” Mr. Pompeo said in a sharp statement.

“The United States will continue to push back against malign actors who seek to subvert our democratic processes,” Mr. Pompeo continued, “and we will not hesitate to impose further costs on Russia for its destabilizing and unacceptable activities.”

The Treasury Department said the sanctions sought to punish attempts to influence the 2018 midterm elections, in which Democrats won control of the House. Early last year, the Justice Department indicted 13 Russians and companies linked to the Internet Research Agency on charges of meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

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CreditPool photo by Alexei Druzhinin

Among the people indicted was Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, an oligarch who is close to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and finances the Internet Research Agency with the Kremlin’s backing. The sanctions announced Monday include a ban on the use of Mr. Prigozhin’s yacht and three private jets. The Treasury Department also imposed sanctions on six employees of the agency.

Based in St. Petersburg, the Internet Research Agency is perhaps the world’s most famous manipulator of social media. Its disinformation campaign in 2016 is believed to have reached as many as 126 million Americans.

Mr. Trump has resisted accepting American intelligence conclusions that Russia interfered with the election that he won. Instead, he has held to a conspiracy theory debunked by his own White House advisers that Ukraine sought to influence the election on behalf of his Democratic rival in 2016, Hillary Clinton.

Mr. Trump has also accused Mr. Biden, while he was vice president, of improperly pushing for the dismissal of a Ukrainian prosecutor who was investigating a company that was paying his son Hunter Biden. There is no evidence to support Mr. Trump’s claim, which he asked President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine to investigate in a July 25 telephone call.

That conversation is now at the heart of a whistle-blower complaint that has propelled House Democrats to begin impeachment proceedings against Mr. Trump. It has also raised questions about Mr. Trump’s consent for his personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, to deal directly with Ukrainian government officials, bypassing his own State Department.

Among the countries Mr. Pompeo will visit this week on a diplomatic trip to Europe is North Macedonia. Last summer, Russia-backed groups led a failed influence campaign against a referendum for the country to change its name — from Macedonia to North Macedonia — and pave the way for it to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Moscow opposes North Macedonia’s inclusion in NATO, the Western military alliance that is advancing on Russia’s borders. North Macedonia currently is in the process of joining.

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