President Joe Biden on Thursday announced new sanctions against Russia and expelled 10 diplomats in retaliation for the Kremlin’s interference in American elections, its aggressive actions in the Ukraine, and the SolarWinds cyber hack.
The White House, which has foreshadowed its intentions for weeks, also harshly denounced Moscow for offering the Taliban bounties for U.S. troops serving in Afghanistan.
The United States said it was taking the action to ‘counter Russia’s harmful foreign activities that threaten the national security and foreign policy of the United States.’
In a series of actions on Thursday, the United States sanctioned 32 Russian entities and individuals along with six technology companies, formally attributed the SolarWinds cyber breach to Russian intelligence agencies, and accused Moscow of still trying to hack American targets.
‘The President signed this sweeping new authority to confront Russia’s continued and growing malign behavior,’ said Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen in a statement. The Treasury Department is in charge of carrying out the sanctions.
‘Treasury is leveraging this new authority to impose costs on the Russian government for its unacceptable conduct, including by limiting Russia’s ability to finance its activities and by targeting Russia’s malicious and disruptive cyber capabilities,’ she said.
The tough actions by the Biden administration come amid growing tension between the two nations as international outrage builds over the Russia’s military build up on the Ukraine border and amid accusations Russia offered to pay militants in Afghanistan to kill American military personnel.
Biden signed an executive order Thursday morning authorizing the sanctions and expelling of diplomats, who the administration claims includes representatives of Russian intelligence services.
The administration specifically cites Russian interference in free and fair elections, its ‘malicious cyber activities’ against the United States, fostering corruption to influence foreign governments, targeting dissidents or journalists, undermining security in countries important to American national security and violating well-established principles of international law, including respect for the territorial integrity of states.
It also criticized Russian for offering the Taliban bounties on U.S. troops serving in Afghanistan but said that would be handled through diplomatic channels.
‘Given the sensitivity of this matter, which involves the safety and well-being of our forces, it is being handled through diplomatic, military and intelligence channels,’ the White House said in a statement.
The executive order also expanded an existing ban on US banks trading in Russian government debt.
President Joe Biden announced new sanctions against Russia and expelled 10 diplomats in retaliation for the Kremlin’s interference in American elections, its aggressive actions in the Ukraine, and the SolarWinds cyber hack
The administration has been warning the actions are coming as President Biden takes a much harsher stance against Moscow than his predecessor, Donald Trump.
Biden spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday to warn him.
‘He did not hold back on his concerns, including reiterating that there will be consequences to the actions that were taken. I expect you will know more about that soon,’ White House press secretary Jen Psaki said of the call on Wednesday.
The Kremlin said on Thursday it would respond in kind to any new ‘illegal’ new U.S. sanctions on Russia and said any new measures would reduce the chances of a summit between Biden and Putin taking place.
In its Thursday announcement, the administration targeted six Russian technology companies it claims are supporting Kremlin intelligence agencies.
The administration also blamed Russian intelligence agencies for the SolarWinds cyber hack, which Moscow denies. And it criticized the agencies for their involvement in the August 2020 poisoning of Aleksey Navalny and its targeting of Russian journalists.
And the National Security Agency on Thursday issued guidelines for companies on how to counter Russian cyber actions. The agency said it was taking such action to ‘highlight additional tactics, techniques, and procedures being used; by Russian intelligence agencies ‘so that network defenders can take action to mitigate against them.
The massive Russian hacking campaign – familiarly known as the SolarWinds breach -targeted at least nine vital federal agencies, including the Treasury, Justice, Energy and Homeland Security departments. The scale of the hack is still being determined.
Pictured: Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy visits positions of armed forces near the frontline with Russian-backed separatists in Donbass region, Ukraine April 9, 2021
Russian hackers are believed to have infected widely used software with malicious code, enabling them to access the networks of the federal agencies. Officials believe it was an intelligence gathering operation aimed at mining government secrets.
The sanctions, foreshadowed for weeks by the Biden administration, are the first retaliatory action announced against the Kremlin for last year’s hack.
The sanctions are intended to send a clear retributive message to Russia and to deter similar acts in the future. They come amid an already tense relationship between the U.S. and Russia.
President Biden told Putin this week in their second call to ‘de-escalate tensions’ following a Russian military buildup on Ukraine’s border, and said the U.S. would ‘act firmly in defense of its national interests’ regarding Russian intrusions and election interference.
In a television interview last month, he replied ‘I do’ when asked if he thought Putin was a ‘killer.’ He said the days of the U.S. ‘rolling over’ to Putin were done.
Putin later recalled his ambassador to the U.S. and pointed at the U.S. history of slavery and slaughtering Native Americans and the atomic bombing of Japan in World War II.
It remained unclear whether the U.S. actions would actually result in changed behavior, especially since past measures by the U.S. have failed to bring an end to Russian hacking.
The Obama administration expelled diplomats from the U.S. in 2016 in response to interference in that year’s presidential election.
And though Trump was often reluctant to criticize Putin, his administration also expelled diplomats in 2018 for Russia’s alleged poisoning of an ex-intelligence officer in Britain.
U.S. officials are still grappling with the aftereffects of the SolarWinds intrusion, which exposed vulnerabilities in the supply chain as well as weaknesses in the federal government’s own cyber defenses.
The actions represent the second major round of sanctions imposed by the Biden administration against Russia.
Last month, the U.S. sanctioned seven mid-level and senior Russian officials, along with more than a dozen government entities, over a nearly fatal nerve-agent attack on opposition leader Alexei Navalny and his subsequent jailing.
Tensions are rising over the conflict in eastern Ukraine, with growing violations of a cease-fire and a massive Russian military buildup near its border with the region.
Ukraine and the West have become worried about the Russian troops’ concentration and have urged Moscow to pull them back.
Russia has argued that it’s free to deploy its forces on its territory and sternly warned the government in Kyiv against using force to reclaim control of the rebel-held territory east where more than 14,000 people have died in seven years of fighting.
But the Ukraine has warned Russia that it will bear ‘very painful’ consequences if it invades as Vladimir Putin continues to mass his forces in eastern Europe.
Dmytro Kuleba, the country’s foreign minister, said Thursday that Moscow is ‘openly’ threatening Ukraine with ‘destruction’ by stationing 80,000 troops along its border – with more arriving every day.
‘Today, the four of us can firmly declare that we condemn the exacerbation of the situation by Russia, the actions and statements of Moscow aimed at escalating tensions,’ Kuleba said at a joint news conference with the Baltics ministers in Kyiv.
‘The world is on the side of Ukraine and international law, and this is one of the elements of restraining Russia from reckless actions,’ he added.
The United States and NATO allies have been alarmed by the large buildup of Russian troops near Ukraine and in Crimea, the peninsula that Moscow annexed from Kyiv in 2014.
On Wednesday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, along with Biden called on Russia to pull back troops from the Ukrainian border to de-escalate the situation in the region.