US slaps new sanctions on Iranian groups for election interference

US slaps new sanctions on Iranian groups for election interference
Iranian groups have been sanctioned for interfering with the US election and US voters. (AP)
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Updated 23 October 2020

US slaps new sanctions on Iranian groups for election interference

US slaps new sanctions on Iranian groups for election interference
  • US says Bayan Gostar, an alleged IRGC-Qods Force “front company” for propaganda, took the lead in the activities

WASHINGTON:  The United States on Thursday slapped new sanctions on five Iranian entities for what it called “brazen attempts” to interfere with the US election.
Stepping up pressure after US intelligence pointed the finger at both Iran and Russia, the Treasury Department accused the Iranian groups of seeking to spread disinformation and division ahead of the November 3 vote.
The Treasury imposed the fresh sanctions against the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the IRGC-Qods Force, the Bayan Rasaneh Gostar Institute, the Iranian Islamic Radio and Television Union and International Union of Virtual Media.
The groups have worked to “sow discord among the voting populace by spreading disinformation online and executing malign influence operations aimed at misleading US voters,” the Treasury said.
Bayan Gostar, which the Treasury called an IRGC-Qods Force “front company” for propaganda, took the lead in the activities, it said.
Ahead of the election, “Bayan Gostar personnel have planned to influence the election by exploiting social issues within the United States, including the Covid-19 pandemic, and denigrating US political figures,” it said.
“As recently as summer 2020, Bayan Gostar was prepared to execute a series of influence operations directed at the US populace ahead of the presidential election.”
The two media groups were part of that operation, it said.
The Treasury gave no specific details on what the Iranians had done, but US social media companies have blocked accounts and postings they determined were part of Iranian government-backed influence efforts related to the election and social issues.
The sanctions, which forbid Americans and US entities from doing business with the Iranian groups, likely have little real impact, as the IRGC and IRGC-Qods Force are already subject to other sweeping sanctions.
The announcement came one day after the US Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe fingered Iran as behind recent emails addressed to US voters threatening them to support President Donald Trump and his Republican Party.
The emails appeared to have been sent by a right-wing US militia group, the Proud Boys, but Ratcliffe said Iran was behind them.
Trump stirred controversy in his first debate with his Democratic opponent, Joe Biden, by equivocating on whether he condemns the Proud Boys.

Iran summoned the ambassador of Switzerland, who represents US interests in Tehran in the absence of diplomatic relations, to deny the “fabricated and clumsy” allegations.
US authorities “have put forward a baseless claim on the verge of the country’s election so that they would advance their undemocratic and predefined scenario through shifting the blame,” Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said in a statement.
The accusations against Iran came after longstanding US concerns about the role of Russia.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has acknowledged favoring Trump in the 2016 election and an investigation by former FBI chief Robert Mueller found evidence that Trump associates cooperated with Moscow, although he said he did not have enough to bring conspiracy charges.
Trump has repeatedly voiced anger at the “Russia hoax,” describing it as a way to discredit his election victory.
While Trump has spoken fondly of Putin, his administration has been a sworn enemy of Iran’s clerical regime, imposing overwhelming sanctions and withdrawing from a denuclearization accord negotiated by former president Barack Obama.
The Treasury Department separately Thursday imposed sanctions against Iran’s ambassador to Iraq, where the United States has been working to fight Tehran’s influence.
The Treasury alleged Iraj Masjedi was a “close adviser” to Qasem Soleimani, Iran’s most powerful general, who was killed in January by a US strike.


Moscow starts mass COVID-19 vaccination with its Sputnik V shot

Updated 05 December 2020

Moscow starts mass COVID-19 vaccination with its Sputnik V shot

Moscow starts mass COVID-19 vaccination with its Sputnik V shot
  • The task force said the Russian-made vaccine would first be made available to doctors and other medical workers, teachers and social workers
  • Moscow, the epicenter of Russia’s coronavirus outbreak, registered 7,993 new cases overnight

MOSCOW: Moscow began distributing the Sputnik V COVID-19 shot via 70 clinics on Saturday, marking Russia’s first mass vaccination against the disease, the city’s coronavirus task force said.
The task force said the Russian-made vaccine would first be made available to doctors and other medical workers, teachers and social workers because they ran the highest risk of exposure to the disease.
“You are working at an educational institution and have top-priority for the COVID-19 vaccine, free of charge,” read a phone text message received by one Muscovite, an elementary school teacher, early on Saturday and seen by Reuters.
Moscow, the epicenter of Russia’s coronavirus outbreak, registered 7,993 new cases overnight, up from 6,868 a day before and well above the daily tallies of around 700 seen in early September.
“Over the first five hours, 5,000 people signed up for the jab — teachers, doctors, social workers, those who are today risking their health and lives the most,” Mayor Sergei Sobyanin wrote on his personal website on Friday.
The age for those receiving shots is capped at 60. People with certain underlying health conditions, pregnant women and those who have had a respiratory illness for the past two weeks are barred from vaccination.
Russia has developed two COVID-19 vaccines, Sputnik V which is backed by the Russian Direct Investment Fund and another developed by Siberia’s Vector Institute, with final trials for the both yet to be completed.
Scientists have raised concerns about the speed at which Russia has worked, giving the regulatory go-ahead for its vaccines and launching mass vaccinations before full trials to test its safety and efficacy had been completed.
The Sputnik V vaccine is administered in two injections, with the second dose is expected to be given 21 days after the first.
Moscow closed down all public places including parks and cafes, with exception for delivery, in late March, with police patrolling the streets looking for whose violating the rules. Restrictions were eased from mid-June, however.
Russia as a whole reported 28,782 new infections on Saturday, its highest daily tally, pushing the national total to 2,431,731, the fourth-highest in the world.
In October, certain restrictions such as remote learning for some secondary school children and a 30% limit on the number of workers allowed in offices were introduced again.