The United States announced economic sanctions against Russia on Thursday and the expulsion of 10 diplomats in retaliation for what Washington says is the Kremlin’s US election interference, a massive cyber attack and other hostile activity.
President Joe Biden’s executive order “sends a signal that the United States will impose costs in a strategic and economically impactful manner on Russia if it continues or escalates its destabilising international action,” the White House said.
The moves are in response to alleged interference in last year’s presidential election as well as the hacking last year of federal government agencies. The US for the first time explicitly linked that intrusion to a Russian intelligence service.
The sanctions have been foreshadowed for weeks by the administration and represent the first retaliatory action announced against the Kremlin for last year’s hack, familiarly known as the SolarWinds breach.
In that intrusion, Russian hackers are believed to have infected widely used software with malicious code, enabling them to access the networks of at least nine agencies in what US officials believe was an intelligence gathering operation aimed at mining government secrets.
Besides that hack, US officials last month alleged that Russian President Vladimir Putin authorised influence operations to help Donald Trump in his unsuccessful bid for reelection as president, though there is no evidence Russia or anyone else changed votes or manipulated the outcome.
A statement from the White House said the Kremlin made “efforts to undermine the conduct of free and fair democratic elections and democratic institutions in the United States and its allies and partners.”
It also called out Russia’s extraterritorial “targeting” of dissidents and journalists and undermining of security in countries important to US national security.
Russia’s foreign ministry said that the move contradicted Mr Biden’s stated desire to normalise relations with Moscow, something he told Russian counterpart Mr Putin earlier this week.
Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said that the US’ hostile steps had dangerously raised the temperature of a confrontation between Moscow and Washington and that it would have to pay for damaging bilateral ties.
“We have repeatedly warned the United States about the consequences of their hostile steps which dangerously raise the temperature of confrontation between our two countries,” Ms Zakharova told a news briefing.
“Such aggressive behaviour will without doubt receive a decisive rebuff. We need to recognise that someone needs to pay for the degradation in our bilateral relations. Responsibility for what is happening lies entirely with the United States,” she said.
In Brussels, the NATO military alliance said US allies “support and stand in solidarity with the United States, following its 15 April announcement of actions to respond to Russia’s destabilising activities.”
“Allies are taking actions individually and collectively to enhance the Alliance’s collective security,” a statement said.
NATO members cited a “sustained pattern” of Russian behaviour, from aggression against Ukraine to interference in the US presidential election and cyber attacks.
The alliance also condemned the nerve agent attack on Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, which it blames on Moscow, and said it was concerned by reports Russia had encouraged attacks againsts its troops in Afghanistan.
“Allies will continue to work in close consultation to address Russia’s actions, which constitute a threat to Euro-Atlantic security,” the statement said.
“We call on Russia to cease immediately its destabilising behaviour, and to uphold its international obligations.”