Yesterday, the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) sanctioned four individuals engaged in Russian government-directed influence activities to destabilize Ukraine. The named individuals act at the direction of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), an intelligence service sanctioned by the United States. One of the four individuals, Volodymyr Oliynyk, is a former Ukrainian official who fled the country and currently resides in Moscow. Oliynyk helped support Russian cyber operations by gathering information on Ukrainian critical infrastructure. The other three individuals sanctioned were largely involved in disinformation and influence campaigns directed by the FSB. OFAC stated the following implications of the sanctions. “As a result of today’s action, all property and interests in property of the designated persons described above that are in the United States or in the possession or control of U.S. persons are blocked and must be reported to OFAC. In addition, any entities that are owned, directly or indirectly, 50 percent or more by one or more blocked persons are also blocked. Unless authorized by a general or specific license issued by OFAC, or exempt, OFAC’s regulations generally prohibit all transactions by U.S. persons or within (or transiting) the United States that involve any property or interests in property of designated or otherwise blocked persons. The prohibitions include the making of any contribution or provision of funds, goods, or services by, to, or for the benefit of any blocked person, or the receipt of any contribution or provision of funds, goods, or services from any such person.”
These sanctions are intended to target, undermine, and expose Russia’s ongoing destabilization effort in Ukraine. This action is separate and distinct from the broad range of high impact measures the United States and its allies and partners are prepared to impose in order to inflict significant costs on the Russian economy and financial system if it were to further invade Ukraine. Russia is incredibly effective at influence and disinformation operations. They use a hybrid method that attempts to undermine prominent figures in a nation state while also causing mistrust in a nation’s government among the people. By degrading critical infrastructure and causing political divides and tension, Russia believes they can successfully weaken a nation’s security posture. The cyber realm has become an added layer of this method, and often times the FSB relies on criminal threat actors to carry out their objectives.