White House Expels Russian Diplomats, Imposes New Sanctions

April 15, 2021 by Dan McCue
Russian President Vladimir Putin visits the Coordination Center of the Russian Government in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, April 13, 2021. The centre was set up as a line of communication with the whole of Russia for analysing and collecting information, promptly using big data and solving arising problems. (Mikhail Metzel, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

The White House on Thursday unveiled sweeping sanctions on Russia in retaliation for cyberattacks, foreign influence operations and other behavior. The measures include the expulsion of 10 Russian diplomats.

The moves were announced Thursday morning in a lengthy statement from the Biden administration which for the first time explicitly linked the Russian intelligence service to  the SolarWinds cyber attack, reports of bounties on U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, and attempts to interfere in the 2020 U.S. elections.

The sanctions, foreshadowed for weeks by the administration, would 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 U.S. officials believe was an intelligence gathering operation aimed at mining government secrets.

The sanctions announced by the White House are as follows:

— A ban on the sale, transfer, withdrawal or export of any property interest in the United States that belongs to individuals involved in efforts to undermine U.S. elections or otherwise engaged in malicious cyber activities.

— Those who will be subject to sanctions will be determined by the Treasury secretary, in consultation with the Secretary of State and the attorney General.

— Those targeted by the sanctions are government officials as well as individuals who have operated in the technology and/or defense sector of the Russian economy and who are known to have been directly or indirectly engaged in:

  (A)  malicious cyber-enabled activities;

  (B)  interference in a United States or other foreign government election;

  (C)  actions or policies that undermine democratic processes or institutions in the United States or abroad;   

  (D)  transnational corruption;

  (E)  assassination, murder, or other unlawful killing of, or infliction of other bodily harm against, a United States person or a citizen or national of a United States ally or partner;

  (F)  activities that undermine the peace, security, political stability, or territorial integrity of the United States, its allies, or its partners; or

  (G)  deceptive or structured transactions or dealings to circumvent any United States sanctions, including through the use of digital currencies or assets or the use of physical assets.

 In addition, the president’s order suspends the right of unrestricted immigrant and nonimmigrant entry into the United States of noncitizens determined to meet one or more of the criteria above.

In a written statement, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the administration had engaged Russian authorities to share our concerns about their actions and the steps the U.S. is taking in response. 

“Under this new Executive Order, the Treasury Department is issuing a directive prohibiting U.S. financial institutions from conducting transactions in the primary market for new ruble or non-ruble denominated bonds issued after June 14, 2021,” Blinken said. “This Executive Order also provides authority for the U.S. government to expand sovereign debt sanctions on Russia as appropriate.”

In addition to the measures described above, the U.S., together with its partners and allies, on March 2 the U.S.  responded to Russia’s attempt to poison Aleksey Navalny using a chemical weapon and his subsequent arrest and imprisonment.  

“We remain concerned about Navalny’s health and treatment in prison, and call for his unconditional release.,” Blinken said.

“These actions are intended to hold Russia to account for its reckless actions. We will act firmly in response to Russian actions that cause harm to us or our allies and partners. Where possible, the United States will also seek opportunities for cooperation with Russia, with the goal of building a more stable and predictable relationship consistent with U.S. interests,” the secretary said.

“Additionally, the State Department is taking steps to bolster cybersecurity partnerships internationally, including by providing a new training course with partners on the policy and technical aspects of publicly attributing cyber incidents and by supporting training on responsible state behavior in cyberspace,” Blinken added.

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