The US has launched diplomatic and financial offensives against Russian officials and businesses in retaliation for election-meddling and Moscow-linked hacking that compromised major federal agencies.
The move included the expulsion of 10 Russian diplomats from the US and sanctions on several organisations and individuals, the White House and State Department said on Thursday, DPA news agency reported.
The US government also cited Russia’s continued occupation of Crimea, which it annexed from Ukraine seven years ago, and for reportedly offering bounties to militants in Afghanistan who killed US troops.
Among the expelled diplomats are five employees of Russian intelligence services.
In addition, US banks will be barred from trading in fresh Russian state debt starting on June 14, while six Russian technology companies accused of helping the state engage in malicious cyber activities were hit.
Despite the fresh sanctions, the US does not seek to escalate tensions with Russia, President Joe Biden said Thursday.
“The United States is not looking to kick off a cycle of escalation and conflict with Russia,” Biden said in brief remarks at the White House. “We want a stable, predictable relationship.”
The White House had also stressed this earlier. “The Biden administration has been clear that the United States desires a relationship with Russia that is stable and predictable,” a White House statement read.
“We do not think that we need to continue on a negative trajectory. However, we have also been clear – publicly and privately – that we will defend our national interests and impose costs for Russian government actions that seek to harm us.”
Biden warned that “if Russia continues to interfere with our democracy, I’m prepared to take further actions to respond”.
The list of activities the US says it wants to warn Russia against include: tampering with US elections; cyberattacks; the use of corruption to influence foreign governments; taking actions against dissidents or journalists; and violating principles of international law.
Biden has raised the stakes in his relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin of late. It has only been weeks since, during a broadcast interview, Biden responded affirmatively when asked if he thought Putin was “a killer.”
The US also officially named the Russian intelligence service SVR as being behind the SolarWinds attack.
The US also does not recognize Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and has condemned its support for separatist militants in eastern Ukraine. And it has denounced Moscow for the attempted assassination of dissident Alexei Navalny in eastern Russia last year. Navalny is currently on a hunger strike in a Russian prison.
It’s a sharp change in tack out of Washington from the last four years, where the administration of Donald Trump was often seen as more friendly to the Kremlin.
Democrats routinely accused Trump of being too cosy with Putin, although Trump also expelled Russian diplomats – after the Kremlin’s alleged use of nerve agent to poison a former Russian spy in Britain.
Moscow has denied all the charges against it.
Russia summoned US Ambassador John Sullivan to Moscow’s Foreign Ministry after the White House announcement.
Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova warned that “such aggressive behaviour will undoubtedly receive a rebuff – a response to the sanctions will be inevitable.”
The US Treasury Department said that the sanctions related to the alleged election tampering will affect 32 entities and individuals. It also said that, in coordination with Australia, Britain, Canada and the European Union, it had levied sanctions on eight individuals and entities linked to the Crimean occupation.
The European Union expressed solidarity with the US in the wake of Russia’s “malicious cyber activities.”
“The compromise affected governments and businesses worldwide, including in EU members,” EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said in a statement sent out on behalf of the bloc.
The United States’ 29 fellow NATO members, many of whom are in the EU, also backed Washington.
“The US and other allies assess that all available evidence points to the responsibility of the Russian Federation for the SolarWinds hack,” a joint written statement read.
Poland deemed three Russian diplomats, employees of the Russian embassy in Warsaw, as personae non gratae and expressed solidarity with the US.
The three diplomats are to be expelled as a consequence of them breaching the terms of their diplomatic status and conducting actions harmful to Poland, according to the Polish Foreign Ministry.
“Jointly made … decisions of allies are the most appropriate response to Russia’s hostile actions,” the ministry said in a statement.