Biden Slaps stiff Sanctions on Russia, Moscow responds

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US President Joe Biden on Thursday imposed sanctions against Russia over alleged cyber attacks; Courtesy Photo

US President Joe Biden on Thursday imposed extensive new sanctions on Russia and formally blamed the country’s intelligence agency for the sophisticated hacking operation that breached American government agencies.

The sanctions included measures are intended to make it more difficult for Russia to take part in the global economy if it continued its “campaign of disruptive actions,” including in cyberspace and on the border of Ukraine.

“I chose to be proportionate,” Mr. Biden said in comments at the White House, describing how he had warned President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia of what was coming in a phone conversation on Tuesday.

“The United States is not looking to kick off a cycle of escalation and conflict with Russia. We want a stable, predictable relationship,” he added, offering again to meet Mr. Putin in person this summer in Europe.

While the sanctions might not bite hard immediately, White House officials said they left themselves room to squeeze Moscow’s ability to borrow money on global markets if tensions escalate.

The measures Mr. Biden announced included sanctions on 32 entities and individuals for disinformation efforts and for carrying out Moscow’s interference in the 2020 presidential election. Ten Russian diplomats, most of them identified as intelligence operatives, were expelled from the Russian Embassy in Washington. And the administration banned American banks from purchasing newly issued Russian government debt.

The United States also joined with European partners to impose sanctions on eight people and entities associated with Russia’s occupation of Crimea, the peninsula that Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014. The sanctions came amid a large Russian military buildup on the border of Ukraine and in Crimea.

Past rounds of sanctions under previous administrations — prompted by Russia’s annexation of Crimea, its effort to influence the 2016 election and its poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain in 2018 — all failed to make Moscow think twice about increasingly aggressive actions.

On Thursday, Russia promised retaliation. In Moscow, the Foreign Ministry’s spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, said a response would be “inevitable,” but she did not immediately disclose what it would entail. The American ambassador was summoned to a meeting with Russian officials, Ms. Zakharova said.

“Such aggressive behavior will of course receive a decisive response,” Ms. Zakharova said. “In Washington, they should know there will be a cost for the degradation of bilateral relations. Responsibility for what is happening lies wholly with the United States.”

At a moment that the United States finds itself in simultaneous confrontations with both Moscow and Beijing that have echoes of the bitter days of the Cold War, the action was Mr. Biden’s first effort to lay down a red line of what he called “totally inappropriate” behavior. It came after four years in which President Donald J. Trump repeatedly cast doubt on intelligence findings that Russia was culpable for cyberattacks, poisonings and disinformation campaigns.

It was also the first time the United States government placed the blame for the hacking attack, which penetrated American government agencies and corporations, right at the feet of Mr. Putin, saying the operation was masterminded by the S.V.R., one of the Russian foreign intelligence agencies directly under his control.

In the final days of Mr. Trump’s term in office, an American intelligence assessment concluded simply that the intrusion was most “likely Russian in origin.”

In the weeks leading up to Thursday’s announcement, Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser, acknowledged that sanctions alone would not be enough to deter the Russians. He said the response to Russia would include “seen and unseen” actions, and Mr. Biden himself suggested in December that the United States would respond in kind, presumably with cyberoperations of its own.

It may take weeks or months to detect those effects, and some may be visible only to the Russians — though that could undercut the message to other adversaries, including China, Iran and North Korea.

The most significant economic sanction the Biden administration imposed was to stop American financial firms from dealing in newly issued Russian debt, a restriction that goes into effect on June 14 to allow institutions to understand and prepare for the ban, and it is more of a warning shot than a sharp penalty. It is an effort to exploit Russia’s weak economy to put pressure on Moscow.

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