USA expels Russian diplomats, imposes sanctions for hacking

Andrew Cummings
April 16, 2021

It came on the same day the United States announced sanctions and the expulsion of 10 Russian diplomats in retaliation for what Washington says was the Kremlin's US election interference, a massive cyber attack and other hostile activity.

President Joe Biden planned to deliver remarks about Russian Federation at the White House at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, the White House said.

The sanctions send a clear retributive message to Russian Federation and are aimed at serving as a deterrent.

US President Joe Biden's White House issued an executive order on Wednesday morning declaring a national emergency and expanding sanctions in response to Russian cyberattacks.

As the sanctions were announced, the United States also for the first time officially attributed the SolarWinds hack to Russian Federation.

US set to slap new sanctions on Russian officials as soon as Thursday - Sources

The 10 diplomats being expelled include representatives of Russian intelligence services, the Biden administration said.

DETROW: Of course, you know, as you mentioned, for four years, the Trump administration took a much less confrontational tone with Russian Federation.

Biden appears to be trying to strike a balance between defending US national interests against Russian Federation while making clear he would prefer to have a less volatile relationship and to cooperate on issues such as curbing Iran's nuclear program. Administration officials said Thursday they had low to moderate confidence in that intelligence. For example, the US government issued a strong statement about the reported Russian bounties on USA soldiers in Afghanistan, which "is being handled through diplomatic, military and intelligence channels", according to the White House. The individuals who were targeted include Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian and Ukrainian political consultant who worked with former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and who was indicted in special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation.

In Brussels, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation military alliance said U.S. allies "support and stand in solidarity with the United States, following its 15 April announcement of actions to respond to Russia's destabilizing activities". Mueller's office said it had been unable to determine what Kilimnik had done with the information after getting it from the Trump campaign.

The executive order on "Blocking Property with Respect to Specified, Harmful Foreign Activities of the Government of the Russian Federation", was signed by Biden on Wednesday and will be made public on Thursday morning, USA officials said.

"When he spoke to him this week", Sullivan told reporters, "he said, 'I told you that I was going to look into this, I made a determination that Russian Federation has, in fact, conducted these actions, and I'm a man of my word, I am ready to respond, but I'm not looking to escalate". "In Washington, they must realize that it's necessary to pay for the degradation of bilateral relations".

Under the new authorities, the Treasury Departments released a directive prohibiting USA financial institutions "from participation in the primary market for ruble or non-ruble denominated bonds issued after June 14, 2021" by Russia's Central Bank, its National Wealth Fund or the Russian Finance Ministry.

DETROW: That's right. Biden had made it clear throughout the campaign, the transition, early on that he was going to treat Russian Federation differently and be tougher.

The U.S. also sanctioned "16 entities and 16 individuals who attempted to influence the 2020 U.S. presidential election at the direction of the leadership of the Russian Government", according to the U.S. Treasury Department.

The two leaders had a second tense call this week in which Biden told Putin to "de-escalate tensions" following a Russian military buildup on Ukraine's border, and said the USA would "act firmly in defense of its national interests" regarding Russian intrusions and election interference.

"As a result of today's designations, all property and interests in property of these targets that are subject to US jurisdiction are blocked, and USA persons are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with them", the Treasury said.

In that context, Sullivan noted, Biden had proposed he and Putin meet in person in the coming months. Putin later recalled his ambassador to the U.S. and pointed at the USA history of slavery and slaughtering Native Americans and the atomic bombing of Japan in World War II.

The US administration said that although it wanted a stable and predictable relationship with Moscow, it was clear that it had to defend its interests and impose costs on the Russian government over its actions in cyber space.

A senior USA official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told reporters that Washington was ready to impose more measures if necessary and also that additional actions are already in place but "will remain unseen". And though Trump was often reluctant to criticize Putin his administration also expelled diplomats in 2018 for Russian Federation alleged poisoning of an ex-intelligence officer in Britain.

USA 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 private supply chain as well as weaknesses in the federal government's own cyber defenses.

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