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Biden White House unveils new sanctions in response to Russian aggression

Jenna McLaughlin
·National Security and Investigations Reporter
·4 min read
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WASHINGTON — The Biden administration on Thursday announced a wide range of punitive measures targeting Russia, including sanctions and the expulsion of diplomats, in response to the country’s aggressive behavior.

The announcement follows an expansive review of Russia’s activities, ranging from its interference in the 2020 U.S. presidential election to placing bounties on U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, and includes a specific, tailored set of measures, leaving options for future action depending on how Moscow responds.

“The Biden administration has been clear that the United States desires a relationship with Russia that is stable and predictable. We do not think that we need to continue on a negative trajectory,” says a White House fact sheet published Thursday morning. “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.”

U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks on his plan to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan, at the White House, Washington, U.S., April 14, 2021. (Andrew Harnik/Pool via Reuters)
President Biden on Wednesday announcing his plan to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan. (Andrew Harnik/Pool via Reuters)

According to a senior administration official speaking to journalists Thursday morning, President Biden previewed the list of measures in a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier this week. Biden told Putin the U.S. would be taking action to respond to the recent SolarWinds digital breach of at least nine U.S. government agencies and thousands of private sector companies, as well as Russian interference in U.S. elections.

Through an executive order released on Thursday, the U.S. government now has “strengthened authorities” to sanction Russian entities and individuals for malign activity.

Under the new authorities, the Treasury Department released a directive prohibiting U.S. 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. The announcement leaves open the possibility of expanding sovereign debt sanctions on Russia.

Additionally, the Treasury Department designated six different Russian companies that provided support — from technical equipment to tools and infrastructure — facilitating the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service’s cyberattacks around the globe.

As part of the administration’s actions, the Treasury Department unveiled sanctions against 32 entities and individuals in response to Russian government-led efforts to influence the 2020 U.S. presidential election, as well as eight individuals and entities linked to Russia’s ongoing occupation of Crimea. The Treasury Department also released details about specific entities associated with the Kremlin’s disinformation campaigns abroad.

The U.S. government will also be expelling 10 Russian government employees, a diplomatic tactic that’s been used in the past, including by former Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump, to express dissatisfaction with Russian intelligence activities. During the background call with journalists on Thursday morning, a senior administration official declined to specify how the administration selected the specific personnel beyond stating that the U.S. government had “determined that they were acting in a manner inconsistent with their status” in the United States.

Russian President Vladimir Putin answers journalists' questions during a press conference in New York, United States on September 29, 2015. (Kremlin Press Service/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Russian President Vladimir Putin at a 2015 press conference in New York. (Kremlin Press Service/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Thursday’s announcements also shed more light on the U.S. intelligence community’s confidence in attributing to the Kremlin certain actions that were suspected of being linked to the Russian government, but not necessarily confirmed. For example, the U.S. government issued a strong statement about the reported Russian bounties on U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, which “is being handled through diplomatic, military and intelligence channels,” according to the White House. The Biden administration also formally attributed the SolarWinds breach to the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service.

During the press call Thursday, a senior administration official said the intelligence community has “low to moderate” confidence that Russian intelligence officers “sought to encourage Taliban attacks on U.S. personnel in 2019 and perhaps earlier, including through financial incentives and compensation.”

The U.S. can’t be fully confident in the assessment because “it relies on detainee reporting,” and because of the challenging operating environment in Afghanistan, according to the official. As a result, the White House does not see the sanctions and other actions as a direct response to the bounties, the official told reporters.

However, the Biden administration wanted to make it extremely clear that “we cannot and will not accept the targeting of our personnel like this” and will take further action if the behavior continues or escalates.

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