Following the Department of Justice's indictment on Friday of Elena Khusyaynova, for targeting the U.S. midterm elections, President Trump should work with Congress to impose significant new sanctions on Russian President Vladimir Putin's regime.
Because Khusyaynova is not a weird civilian who managed tens-of-millions of dollars in private money to troll Americans. Instead, Khusyaynova is a government cutout who used privately laundered Russian government money in order to disrupt the U.S. midterm elections and society at large. She was chosen for this role because she was trusted to follow orders while offering the Kremlin a pretense of deniability. Funded by a more senior cutout, the troll farmer, Yevgeny Prigozhin, Khusyaynova's effort fits with prior and ongoing Russian operations. I noted in July, for example, that a senior U.S. official had informed me that the Russian government was targeting marginal Republican seats that might feasibly fall to Democratic candidates.
Regardless, the DOJ indictment is clear about what Khusyaynova and her team were intending by their nefarious actions.
In addition to targeting House Speaker Paul Ryan's, R-Wis., congressional district, weaponizing one of conservative radio host Michael Savage's more extreme columns, and galvanizing minorities against whites and vice versa, the Russian team were also directed toward very focused time-place-and-space efforts to target specific American demographics.
Let's be clear, this is an orchestrated attack on the U.S. way of life. It is an attack defined by proved intent, scale of operation and resourcing, identified effect, and the context of post-2016 American warnings to Putin to avoid these activities in the future. Moreover, although the hand of the GRU and other Russian services is overtly absent here, it is not far away. The support notes to the trolls — exemplified in the time-to-post guidance — reek of Russian intelligence language and tactical surrealism.
It's in that sense that the use of cutouts to carry out these attacks should be seen as utterly irrelevant. Whether he's killing journalists like Boris Nemtsov, or targeting the U.S. democratic system, Putin loves his cutouts. And Prigozhin is just one of Putin's merry bunch of men. Other senior cutouts include the Agalarov father-son duo, Oleg Deripaska, and others. As Putin himself occasionally likes to make clear in public, these men might be rich but they are also his poodles.
In turn, Putin must now be made to pick up the poop. As a first step, that should mean new U.S. sanctions on the Russian financial and energy sectors.