Ukraine Crisis: Can the US sanction Russia before invasion?

Washington could impose sanctions on Russia in response to alleged cyberattacks on Ukraine, even before any potential ground invasion, a member of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee revealed on Wednesday.

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Democratic Senator Chris Murphy confirmed that “pre-invasion sanctions” were being considered in response to Moscow’s alleged targeting of Ukrainian digital infrastructure.

Washington has repeatedly stated that bold measures will be taken against Russia if it were to make a military incursion into Ukraine. Such sanctions would target specific sectors of the country’s economy, as well as certain individuals like President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin.

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The supposed threat to Ukraine’s cybersecurity is nudging some senators toward imposing measures immediately, while others want to include cyberattack-specific sanctions within the wider measures that will be rolled out in the event of a Russian invasion. In any case, Washington has now deemed a future cyberattack on Ukraine to be a trigger for the imposition of more sanctions on Moscow.

Last month, cybercriminals hacked the websites of a number of Ukrainian ministries, including the Ministry of Education and Science and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The attacks saw warnings posted to their websites, with a message to citizens that all their personal information had been made public. President Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov denied Russia had anything to do with the attacks, although the allegation did not surprise him.

“We are almost used to the fact that Ukrainians blame Russia for everything,” Peskov said in an interview with CNN two days after the attacks.

According to Senate Foreign Relations Chair Bob Menendez, US lawmakers have considered sanctioning Russia for this operation.

Details of the cybersecurity aspect of the upcoming US sanctions package are being kept confidential, the head Republican of the Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Jim Risch, explained to US publication Politico, but he can confirm that “there have been such conversations.”