WASHINGTON (AP) – The Biden administration says the United States is expelling 10 Russian diplomats and imposing sanctions on dozens of people and companies, holding the Kremlin responsible for meddling in last year’s presidential election and hacking federal agencies.
The extensive measures announced Thursday are aimed at punishing Russia for actions that the US authorities say are limited to the nature of American democracy, and to deter future action by imposing economic costs on Moscow, including by targeting its ability to borrow money. . Sanctions will certainly escalate tensions with Russia, which promised a response even when President Joe Biden said the administration could have taken even more punitive measures but chose not to do so in the interests of maintaining stability.
“We cannot allow foreign power to interfere with our democratic process with impunity,”
Sanctions against six Russian companies that support the country’s cyber efforts are the first retaliation against the Kremlin for the hack, known as the SolarWinds breach, with the United States explicitly linking the intrusion to SVR, Russia’s intelligence agency. Although such intelligence-gathering missions are not uncommon, officials said they were determined to respond because of the wide scope of the operation and the high cost of infiltrating private companies.
The United States has also announced sanctions against 32 individuals and entities accused of attempting to intervene in last year’s presidential election, including by spreading misinformation. Representatives of the United States, allegedly in a declassified report last month that Russian President Vladimir Putin has authorized influential operations to help Donald Trump in his failed presidential run-off, although there is no evidence that Russia or anyone else has changed the vote.
The actions predicted by the administration for weeks signal a tougher line against Putin, whom Trump did not want to criticize, even when his administration was pursuing sanctions against Moscow. They are the administration’s second major foreign policy move in two days since the announcement of the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. So far, Biden has focused heavily on the coronavirus pandemic and economy during his first months in power.
Biden said Thursday that when he advised Putin days earlier on the upcoming measures – which include the expulsion of 10 diplomats, some of them Russian intelligence – he told the Russian leader “that we could go further, but I chose not to do so. I chose to be proportionate. “
“We want,” he said, “a stable, predictable relationship.”
However, Russian authorities spoke of a quick response, and Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov warned that “a series of retaliatory measures will come soon.”
Other US measures are expected, although the administration is unlikely to announce them. Officials advise that their response to Russia will be both visible and invisible.
The sanctions announced on Thursday are the latest in a series of actions taken by successive presidential administrations to counter Russian behavior seen as antagonistic. It is unclear whether the new US actions will lead to changed behavior, especially after past US measures – both Trump and Barack Obama expelled individual diplomats during their presidencies, they failed to end Russian hacking.
But experts suggest that this latest round, while not guaranteed to curb cyberattacks, could resonate more because of its financial impact: The order makes it difficult for Russia to borrow money, banning US banks from buying Russian bonds directly from The Russian Central Bank, the Russian National Wealth Fund and the Ministry of Finance. This could complicate Russia’s fundraising efforts and give companies a break from doing business in Russia.
The impact of the sanctions and the US willingness to impose spending will be assessed by Putin as he assesses his next steps, although he is unlikely to make a “180 turn” in his behavior, said Daniel Fried, a former assistant secretary of state for European and European affairs. Eurasian issues.
“The question is how we can repel Putin’s aggression while maintaining open channels of communication and continuing to cooperate with Russia in areas of mutual interest,” Fried said. “And it seems to me that the Biden administration has done a pretty good job of shaping the relationship that way.”
Eric Lorber, a former Treasury Department employee who now works for the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, said the administration “is certainly trying to balance by putting pressure on Russia, pushing Russia away, while not committing to full-fledged economic war. “
The White House has not imposed sanctions on reports that Russia encourages the Taliban to attack US and allied forces in Afghanistan, instead saying Biden uses diplomatic, military and intelligence channels to respond.
Reports of alleged “generosity” surfaced last year, and the Trump administration came under fire for failing to raise the issue directly with Russia. Administration officials said Thursday that they have only low to moderate confidence in the intelligence, in part because of the ways in which the information was obtained, including from interrogations of Afghan detainees.
Among the sanctioned companies are websites that U.S. officials say work as fronts for Russian intelligence agencies and spread misinformation, including articles alleging widespread voter fraud in 2020. Among those targeted is Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian and Ukrainian politician. consultant who worked with former Trump campaign president Paul Manafort and who is accused of investigating Russia’s special lawyer Robert Mueller.
The finance ministry said on Thursday that Kilimnik had provided “sensitive information about the election and campaign strategy” to Russian intelligence. This went further than Mueller’s office, which said in its 2019 report that it had failed to determine what Kilimnik had done with the poll data after receiving it from the Trump campaign.
The list of sanctions also included the Kremlin’s first deputy chief of staff, Alexei Gromov, several people linked to Yevgeny Prigogine, a businessman with close ties to the Russian president, nicknamed “Putin’s cook” to serve in the Kremlin. as well as several front companies that the United States says helped Prigogine avoid previously imposed sanctions.
The United States has also sanctioned eight individuals and entities linked to the Russian occupation of Crimea.
Biden informed Putin that the sanctions were coming earlier this week. In contacts with the Russian side, administrative officials have made it clear that they hope to avoid a “downward spiral” in relations, according to a senior administration official who informed reporters on anonymity after the sanctions were announced.
The two leaders had a tense call in which Biden told Putin to “de-escalate tensions” following the build-up of Russia’s military border in Ukraine and said the United States would “act firmly in defense of its national interests” with regard to Russian and election interference. .
In a televised interview last month, Biden said “I do,” when asked if he thought Putin was a “killer.” He said the days of a “rollover” of the United States to Putin were over. Putin later recalled his ambassador to the United States and pointed to the American history of Indian slavery and slaughter and the atomic bombing of Japan during World War II.
U.S. officials are still grappling with the aftermath of the intrusion of SolarWinds, which has affected agencies, including the Treasury, Justice and National Security. The breach revealed vulnerabilities in the supply chain, as well as weaknesses in the federal government’s own cyber defense.
Associated Press writers Zeke Miller in Washington, Vladimir Isachenkov and Daria Litvinova in Moscow, and AP diplomatic writer Matthew Lee in Kabul.