Sanctions against Russia don’t match the threats

March 23, 2018 GMT

For a moment, think of the various threats Russia has made against the United States and its allies.

Its government hackers and spy agencies interfered in the 2016 presidential election, promoting fake and inflammatory information and hacked the Democratic National Committee.

Its military intelligence agency, known as GRU, led a massive global cyberattack in 2017 that affected companies and hospitals in Ukraine.

Russia has been linked to the brazen chemical attack on a former double agent living in England.

Russian hackers have infiltrated some power plants in the U.S. with the capabilities to shut down power or sabotage operators.

U.S. intelligence officials have confirmed these hard truths, and others, and warned of potential Russian meddling in this year’s midterm elections. Special counsel Robert Mueller has also indicted 13 Russians and three Russian companies in an elaborate scheme to spread propaganda during the 2016 elections.

At long last, the Trump administration imposed sanctions on 19 Russians and five Russian companies, including the Internet Research Agency, which allegedly led a massive campaign of digital disinformation. But these are largely symbolic and fall far short of what the United States can and should do in response to such aggressive action. Many of these individuals had already been sanctioned under former President Barack Obama. And the Trump administration has not followed through on a number of other congressional mandated sanctions against Russia.

In fact, President Donald Trump has repeatedly expressed skepticism that Russia meddled in the 2016 election even as his own national security team has warned of Russia’s threat.

“Frankly, the United States is under attack,” Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told Congress in February.

These sanctions are tantamount to a baby step in policy — more than doing nothing, but in no way proportionate to the threat this country faces from Russia. Stronger measures are needed, and so too is an election security plan for 2018.