PARIS — Sep 14, 2018, 4:47 PM ET

As Trump threatens election meddlers, Russia says 'so what?'

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President Donald Trump is finally making moves against foreign election meddling - and Russia says it couldn't care less.

Trump's executive order this week authorizing sanctions on foreigners who mess with American elections could herald new headaches for Moscow.

But Russian officialdom shrugged it off as internal U.S. politicking, and analysts say it would barely bruise Russia's economy and do little to deter interference in November's midterms — since Russia denies meddling anyway.

A Russian PR agent who runs a provocative U.S. website says the executive order isn't denting his resolve to expand in the next few months.

"There's such a huge quantity of sanctions, everyone's getting them confused," said Alexander Malkevich, editor of news site USAReally, which is funded by the sponsors of the Russian "troll factory" accused of interference in the 2016 U.S. vote.

"We are not planning to do agitation or propaganda for one candidate (in the midterms) or another," Malkevich told The Associated Press. However, he said the site will focus on coverage of immigration, and policies that he says coddle immigrants. He displays Trump paraphernalia in his Moscow office, and harbors deep disdain for Democrats.

A series of sanctions on Russian officials, oligarchs and companies by the U.S. has progressively deepened Russian resentment, and Russians see Trump's new order as further reducing any remaining chances for detente.

"It's about how we can build any kind of partnership, including on those issues where it is still potentially possible," said Russian senator Oleg Morozov, who sits on the foreign affairs committee, told news agency RIA Novosti after Trump signed the sanctions order Wednesday.

"This window of opportunity is turning into a little slit."

Trump's order came amid bipartisan criticism of his refusal to confront Putin at a joint news conference in Helsinki in July about accusations of Russian hacking, trolling and manipulation during the 2016 presidential campaign.

With a sweeping investigation underway into what Russia did and whether it colluded with the Trump campaign, the White House has imposed some sanctions against Russia and expelled Russian spies. But domestic critics say Trump isn't going far enough.

His new order authorizes sanctions against any individual, company or country that interferes with things like voter databases or tabulation equipment; it also targets activities such as distributing disinformation or propaganda to influence or damage confidence in U.S. elections.

In theory, it could be used to punish those meddling in the midterms. U.S. intelligence officials say they're not now seeing the intensity of Russian intervention registered in 2016 but are particularly concerned about potential midterm-related activity by Russia, China, Iran and North Korea.

Microsoft said it uncovered new Russian hacking efforts targeting U.S. political groups ahead of the November vote. Google warned a Senator that he might have been the target of hackers tied to a "nation-state." And Facebook recently banned hundreds of pages, groups or accounts linked to Russia and Iran for misleading political behavior.

Trump's executive order is vague and doesn't name any particular target, however.

"It's rather lightweight," said independent Russian political scientist Dmitry Oreshkin. "It doesn't bring a serious blow to Putin's position."

If Russia does have a structure in place to interfere in the midterms, Oreshkin said the executive order could prompt this structure to "create an extra layer of isolation to ensure that it will be very hard to follow the path (of hacking or disinformation) to its source."

Russia's leaders are more worried about heavier sanctions already in place over Moscow's interference abroad - and the potential for more. Some speculate that Trump's order was aimed not at scaring Russia but at deflating support for broader sanctions under discussion in Congress.

A bill by Republican and Democratic senators would target entire economic sectors of a country that interferes with elections, and prohibit foreign governments from purchasing election ads or using social media to spread false information.

Separately, the U.S. energy secretary, visiting Moscow this week, threatened energy-related sanctions on Russia that could do deep damage to the oil- and gas-rich country.

Analyst Chris Weafer of consultancy Macro-Advisory said Trump's election meddling sanctions would be too narrow to have much economic impact and would not "themselves cause a crisis in Russia."

However, he said, the "salami-slice approach" of increasing layers of sanctions reinforces the perception of risk, particularly for foreign companies. "As the sanctions get tougher, what we see is companies are delaying investment decisions."

Meanwhile, Russian-run website USAReally - which purports to cover news "hushed up" by the mainstream media, but in fact carries a mix of repackaged articles from freak accidents to recent teachers' strikes in Washington state - is gradually building its following.

Malkevich said it currently has 11,000 unique readers a day, even though it's banned from leading American social networks and is still in a "test version."

Asked when the full-scale site will launch, he said, "by Christmas," at the latest.

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James Ellingworth in Moscow contributed.

News - As Trump threatens election meddlers, Russia says 'so what?'

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CComments

  • toucan

    Russia has him by the _alls, they don't care what he thinks.

  • thebobbob

    Pootie owns Donnie! Russia has nothing to worry about.

  • Jiba

    Trump is fooling Americans to such an extent.

  • jake

    As long as Trump is president, Putin knows the US president will do nothing more than give lip service to preventing Russian interference in US matters. Putin and the Russian mafia seem to own Trump and all Trump can or will do is wave his hands and shout "Hillary! Hoax! Witch hunt! No collusion!"

  • Mic123

    America should say "so what" to russian trolls on face da book. There is enough fake news on our media. take it all for what its worth, what is that old saying buyer beware. Reader beware, there are those on the internet who want to sell you some crap....fair warning.

  • Furrmin The Cat

    Trump's order is vague because he cannot afford to make Putin mad.

  • Stephen Bishop

    Russia is financing Trump's business. They're not worried.

  • RededWhiteandBlue

    Now, we just need to address domestic election meddling.

  • Band, On the Run

    This just goes to show how inept and ineffective other countries see Trump. He bleats, they shrug their shoulders.

  • Sonora Nomad

    Russia is unconcerned now because they did what they set out to do...get Trump elected. Putin/Russia knew if Trump got elected he would harm the US. Mission accomplished.

  • The Outlier

    "USAReally" is a very good argument for why we need FCC-type regulation of the Internet. What we are letting our foreign adversaries get away with is astounding.

  • normarae

    Putin's BFF Trump, is all smoke and mirrors and using these Fake sanctions to draw attention away from the Mueller investigation and Woodward's new book Fear, and the many others in his administration who are disclosing his dangerous ignorance and insanity...Remember how Trump insulted those who attended the G7 Summit, especially Justin Trudeau and Andrea Merkel, throwing a Starburst candy at her and saying "Don't say I never gave you anything."..Cruel, rude Trump, tried to get his BFF Putin reinstated to the G7 after Putin had been thrown out for invading Ukraine?

    Trump, is insane and needs to go ASAP, before he can do anymore damage to Our America, and so do the "Elected" in the GOP who continue to support his dangerous narcissistic insanity for their own benefit..Vote them all out in November!
    We need to remember.. The most Powerful Party in Our Country is us Voters!

    John Brennan, said "Trump is being allowed to play Russian Roulette with real American's lives for his own benefit." I think Brennan got it right..The manuscripts from Trump's and Putin's private meeting in Helsinki, need to be opened up to the American people.IMO..Trump's performance there defending Putin, and undermining our 16 National Security agencies was a disgrace!

  • Chuckie M

    Really, come on why should they care. What a joke.

  • BŁÛëĐévîlĎôĢː~

    "President Donald Trump is finally making moves against foreign election meddling — and Russia says it couldn't care less."
    Howabout this Vlad, we the people elect a President with a real pair in 2020. He then tells you: "We find you meddling in our internal politics or our allies internal politics, we send one of your warships to the bottom every time we encounter them outside you harbors. If that's not motivation enough, you yellow little punk, then we start eliminating air bases when you raise the stakes."

  • Rubber Banned

    Of course they're not worried, they're the ones that told Trump to put on the little smoke show.

  • John Rettinger

    The Russian Government wastes your time with digital system worms, anti-US sentiments, and experiments with lethal sarin, ricin, VX, and mustard gas.

  • BIG MIKE

    RUSSIAN had a very similar stance when Obama threatened to do....WELL NOTHING....

  • Cheese2TheBalls

    He should just tell them to ..cut it out! Knock it off! ...that should wrap this up in few days.

  • snake

    President Donald Trump is finally making moves against foreign election meddling — and Russia says it couldn't care less.

    Of course Russia is unconcerned because they realize Trump won't enforce any sanctions against them. Putin owns Trump.