Biden administration imposes significant economic sanctions on Russia over cyberspying, efforts to influence presidential election
The Biden administration on Thursday imposed the first significant sanctions targeting the Russian economy in several years to punish the Kremlin for a cyberespionage campaign against the United States and efforts to influence the presidential election, according to senior U.S. officials.
The administration also sanctioned six Russian companies that support Russian spy services’ cyberhacking operations and will expel 10 officials at the Russian Embassy in Washington, most of them identified as intelligence officers working under diplomatic cover, U.S. officials said. The administration formally named the Russian intelligence service SVR as responsible for the hacking operation commonly known as SolarWinds.
The measures were taken under a new executive order and are an effort to make good on President Biden’s vow to hold Moscow accountable for a series of operations, including the election influence and the cyberhacks, that compromised nine federal agencies and about 100 private firms.
In remarks at the White House, Biden said he had warned Russia during the campaign and after he took office that he would respond to hacking or election interference, but that the U.S. action was measured.
“I chose to be proportionate,” Biden said. “We want a stable, predictable relationship.” Russia has warned it will retaliate, but Biden said “now is the time to de-escalate,” noting that the United States can act again but suggesting he wants to avoid more of a downward spiral in the relationship.
Biden’s principal deputy national security adviser, Jonathan Finer, said earlier that “this is going to be a process that is going to take place over time, and it will involve a mix of significant pressure and finding ways to work together.”
The announcement of a U.S. response had been pushed back repeatedly, in part because Biden has wanted his team to develop more effective measures, said senior administration officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive matter.
Biden in a call with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday had signaled the sanctions were coming but also raised the possibility of a summit with Putin in the summer in Europe. He said Thursday that the “way forward is through thoughtful dialogue.”
The package includes sanctions on all debt Russia issues after June 14, barring U.S. financial institutions from buying government bonds directly from the Russian Central Bank, the Russian National Wealth Fund and the country’s Finance Ministry. Experts said the action will complicate Moscow’s ability to raise money in the international capital markets.
Some Russian officials discounted the move, saying it is easy for investors to work around the restriction by investing in bonds on the secondary market through an intermediary.
But under the new order signed by Biden, the administration is reserving the right to broaden the scope of the sovereign debt sanctions to include secondary markets if Moscow’s malign activities persist, officials said.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Thursday that Russia viewed any U.S. sanctions as illegal and would retaliate in kind. Moscow summoned U.S.
Ambassador John Sullivan for what a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said would be “a difficult talk.”
Peskov said sanctions would not be helpful in the lead-up to the proposed summit.
The Washington Post