The United States hits Russia with new sanctions for meddling in the 2020 presidential election, a widespread cyberattack against American government and corporate networks, and other activities.
President Joe Biden signed an executive order Thursday morning to strengthen his administration’s response to Russia, the White House said. As part of the order, the Ministry of Finance blacklisted six Russian technology companies that support the cyber program run by Russian intelligence agencies.
The Treasury Department also sanctioned 32 people and individuals who “made” government-directed attempts to influence the 2020 US presidential election and other acts of disinformation and meddling, “as well as eight people and organizations involved in Russia’s actions in Crimea in Connected.
One of the Russians listed is Konstantin Kilimnik, an employee of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, whom US officials have identified as a Russian intelligence agent. The Treasury Department said Thursday that Kilimnik provided “sensitive information on election and campaign strategy” to Russian intelligence services during the 2016 US presidential election and “sought to further the narrative that Ukraine, not Russia, will be in the 2016 US presidential election intervened. “
The Biden government also expelled 10 employees from the Russian embassy in Washington, DC, including members of the Russian intelligence community.
As part of its actions, the government is responding “to reports that Russia has promoted Taliban attacks against US and coalition personnel in Afghanistan,” which, because of the sensitivity of the issue and security, “are being conducted through diplomatic, military and intelligence channels” forces, said the White House.
The US has also officially named Russian foreign intelligence as the perpetrator of the SolarWinds cyberattack last year, a widespread breach that hit US government agencies and dozens of companies.
A Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman swore “strong opposition” in response to “such aggressive action” and said US Ambassador John Sullivan had been called to the ministry.
“The response to the sanctions will be inevitable.” The spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, said: “Washington needs to recognize that they have to pay for the deterioration in bilateral relations. The responsibility for what happens rests entirely with the United States of America.”
National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters outside the White House that in her appeal earlier this week, Biden informed Russian President Vladimir Putin that the US would impose the new sanctions.
Biden told Putin that he had “made a decision” that Russia had taken the various harmful measures outlined on Thursday and told him he would react but tensions would not escalate, Sullivan said. Biden also told Putin that he wanted to find a stable and predictable path in their relationship and proposed a summit this summer to that end.
Thursday’s sanctions come a month after Biden publicly promised retaliation against Putin for a series of malicious activities Washington accuses Moscow.
Biden has called Putin a “murderer” and said he would “pay the price” for these actions. Russia denies all of these allegations, saying the intelligence services’ documentation of the 2020 election disruption consists of “baseless allegations”.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov suggested that Moscow would respond to all “illegal” US sanctions in kind.
“We condemn any intention to impose sanctions, consider them illegal, and in any case the principle of reciprocity applies in this area,” he said on Thursday, according to Reuters. Russia didn’t want relations with Washington to be “one step forward and two steps back,” he added.
Last month, a declassified intelligence document stated that Putin had authorized influence operations to denigrate Biden during the 2020 presidential campaign, support then-President Donald Trump, and undermine confidence in American democracy.
US officials also blame Russian intelligence agencies for the SolarWinds cyberattack, which Microsoft President Brad Smith described as “the biggest and most sophisticated attack the world has ever seen”.
The National Security Agency, the FBI, and the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency released An advisory Thursday on which the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service is accused of running ongoing hacking campaigns and has given technical advice on how to block these campaigns.
The government’s actions mark the first time the U.S. government officially named the Russian agency responsible for hacking widespread software from SolarWinds, a Texas-based company, which resulted in the infiltration of at least nine federal agencies and dozen of companies. The federal government’s cybersecurity staff are still working to remove the hackers from the agencies’ networks.
In January, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the Biden government had asked intelligence services for a full assessment of the hacking and meddling in the 2020 elections, as well as the use of Russian “chemical weapons against opposition leader Alexei Navalny” and the alleged bounties US soldiers in Afghanistan. “
At the beginning of last month, the Biden administrator announced its first round of sanctions against Moscow for the poisoning and imprisonment of Navalny, in coordination with the European Union.
The sanctions expected on Thursday come at a time of particular tension after Russia began to amass forces along the border with Ukraine. The Kremlin said the armed forces are there on a training mission, but few outside the country are buying this, and the US and its European allies have urged Russia to withdraw.
In his appeal to Putin on Tuesday, Biden proposed the summit to address issues like the situation in Ukraine.
Analysts say a Russian military offensive is not impossible, but many believe it is more of an attempt to intimidate Ukraine and a warning to the US and its other Western supporters not to venture into what they consider to be a backyard.
Kristen Welker, Andrea Mitchell and Abigail Williams reported from Washington, and Alex Smith reported from London.
Kevin Collier, Tom Winter and Reuters contributed.