The U.S. Treasury Department just slapped sanctions on a number of Russian entities and individuals, including the country’s notorious “Troll Factory” and the man who allegedly controlled it, known as “Putin’s chef.”
The fresh round of sanctions announced on Thursday target five Russian entities and 19 individuals for “their attempted interference in U.S. elections” in 2016. They come a month-and-a-half after a congressionally imposed deadline to impose new sanctions against Russia had passed. Despite the delay, Thursday’s sanctions amount to the harshest penalties imposed by the White House against Russia to date. They bar the individuals from traveling to the U.S. and freeze whatever assets they have in the country.
Most notably, the U.S. targeted the Internet Research Agency, a covert operation based in St. Petersburg and known as the "Troll Factory," where the Kremlin allegedly orchestrated its disinformation campaign to sway the U.S. election in 2016.
The sanctions also target Yevgeniy Prigozhin, one of Putin's closest confidants. Known in Russian media as Putin's "chef," Prigozhin is thought to be the mastermind financier behind the Internet Research Agency’s troll army that spammed social media with fake news, helped organize political demonstrations, and harassed U.S. journalists.
FBI special counsel Robert Mueller, who’s leading the investigation into Russia meddling in the U.S. election, indicted Progozhin last month along with 12 other Russians, all linked to the Internet Research Agency.
Operating since 2014, the Internet Research Agency ran an increasingly sophisticated campaign against the U.S. by “impairing, obstructing, and defeating the lawful functions of government,” according to the indictment Mueller filed last month.
The indictment lays out in detail how a comprehensive campaign called “Project Lakhta,” conducted using social media channels as well as in-person, sowed “discord in the U.S. political system," according to the indictment.
Prigozhin previously served nine years in jail for offenses including fraud and robbery, according to independent Russian media outlet Meduza. Following his time in jail, he turned to the restaurant business, first selling hot dogs and then haute cuisine.
Prigozhin’s relationship with Putin, who he met in 2001, grew after personally serving the Russian president at one of his restaurants.
Cover image: Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting with the permanent members of the Security Council of the Russian Federation. (Michael Klimentyev/Sputnik via AP)