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US expels Russian diplomats, imposes new round of sanctions

  • April 15, 2021

interference in the 2020 presidential election.

The moves are Biden’s second round of sanctions aimed at Russia President Vladimir Putin and the toughest and most sweeping so far. It comes five months after the SolarWinds cyber breach in which Russia is accused of hacking the networks of at least nine federal agencies as part of a mission to gather secrets of the U.S.

The actions also are in response to Russia’s efforts to influence the 2020 election by waging disinformation campaigns to help the candidacy of former President Donald Trump, mirroring meddling efforts in the 2016 election.

Russia recalls its ambassador to the US after Biden says he thinks Putin is a killer

A Russian flag flies next to the US embassy building in Moscow on April 15, 2021. The US announced economic sanctions against Russia and the expulsion of 10 diplomats in retaliation for what Washington says is the Kremlin's US election interference, a massive cyberattack and other hostile activity.

The Biden administration sanctioned six Russian technology companies that provide support to Russia’s cyber program in addition to 32 entities and individuals accused of carrying out Russian government-directed attempts to influence the election. The U.S. also joined with the European Union and other allies to sanction eight other individuals and entities associated with Russia’s ongoing occupation in Crimea.

The 10 diplomats expelled from the Russian embassy in Washington include representatives of Russian intelligence services, the White House said.

Targeting Russia’s financial sector, the U.S. Treasury Department directed U.S. financial institutions to not participate in the primary market for ruble or non-ruble denominated bonds issued after June 14 by Russian banking institutions. The action gives the U.S. government authority to expand sovereign debt sanctions on Russia.

National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan called the sanctions “proportionate measures to defend American interests and responds to harmful Russian actions” in an interview on CNN. 

Sullivan said the “goal is to provide a significant and credible response but not to escalate the situation.” He said the president believes the U.S. and Russia can have “a stable and predictable relationship, that there are areas that we can work to together like arms control and that the U.S. and Russian should sit down together at the leaders level.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin visits the Coordination Center of the Russian Government in Moscow, Tuesday, April 13, 2021. The center was set up as a line of communication with the whole of Russia for analyzing and collecting information, promptly using big data and solving arising problems. (Mikhail Metzel, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

A senior Biden administration official, who spoke about the actions on the condition of anonymity, said other responses against Russia will “remain unseen” in the public eye.

The White House also singled out reports that Russia might have encouraged Taliban attacks against U.S. troops in Afghanistan, but said the new actions aren’t tied to the alleged bounties because of “low-to-moderate confidence” in the intelligence. The White House said the response to the bounties are “being handled through diplomatic, military and intelligence channels.”

In March, the Biden administration sanctioned Russia over the poisoning and continued detention of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

Additional sanctions against Russia had been telegraphed by the Biden administration for weeks.

In his second phone call with Putin on Tuesday, Biden previewed upcoming actions, telling him that the U.S. “will act firmly in defense of its national interest” in response to cyber intrusion and election interference. He called for Putin to “de-escalate tensions” following Russia’s military build-up in Crimea and on Ukraine’s borders. Biden also proposed a summit meeting in a third country with Putin to discuss the U.S.-Russian relations. 

The new actions are certain to further heighten tensions that have already been building between Putin and Biden after the Russian leader enjoyed a warmer relationship with Trump.   

In a television interview last month, Biden said Putin would “pay a price” for Moscow’s interference in the 2020 U.S. presidential election. Biden was also asked if he thought Putin is a killer. “I do,” the president responded. In response, Russia recalled its ambassador to the United States while Putin pointed at the U.S. history of slavery and slaughtering Native Americans and the atomic bombing of Japan in World War II.

More:What you need to know about the FireEye hack: Cybersecurity attack against US government

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Thursday’s actions are “intended to hold Russia to account.”

“We will act firmly in response to Russian actions that cause harm to us or our allies and partners,” he said, adding that “where possible,” the U.S. will also seek opportunities for cooperation. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, visits the Coordination Center of the Russian Government in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, April 13, 2021. The center was set up as a line of communication with the whole of Russia for analyzing and collecting information, promptly using big data and solving arising problems. (Mikhail Metzel, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

In response to the Navalny poisoning, the Biden administration last month sanctioned seven senior members of the Russian government The U.S. also added 14 entities to the Department of Commerce’s blacklist, mirroring sanctions imposed earlier by the European Union and the United Kingdom for the attempted murder of Navalny. The sanctions prevent the top figures allied with Putin from accessing financial and property assets in the U.S. 

Past U.S. actions Russia have failed to change Moscow’s behavior including Russian hacking. After Russian meddling in the 2016 election, the Obama administration expelled diplomats from the U.S. 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 affected agencies including the Treasury, Justice, Energy and Homeland Security departments, and are still assessing what information may have been stolen. The breach exposed vulnerabilities in the supply chain as well as weaknesses in the federal government’s own cyber defenses.

Contributing: Deirdre Shesgreen, USA TODAY; The Associated Press

Reach Joey Garrison on Twitter @joeygarrison.

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