US Further Punishes Russia for Cyberattacks, Election Meddling
April 16, 2021
The United States is taking action to punish Russia
for various "harmful foreign activities," including cyberattacks,
election meddling and aggression in the Crimea region.
Thirty-two entities and individuals linked to Moscow are being
sanctioned for disinformation efforts and interference in the
2020 U.S. presidential election.
Ten personnel from Russia's diplomatic mission in Washington were
expelled, including "representatives of Russian intelligence
services," according to the White House.
The Biden administration is formally blaming the SVR, the external
intelligence agency of Russia, for the massive cybersecurity breach
discovered last year involving SolarWinds, a Texas-based software
management company that allowed access to the systems of thousands
of companies and multiple federal agencies.
The Russian spy agency reacted by calling the accusations "nonsense"
The Russian Foreign Ministry said it had told U.S. Ambassador to
Russia John Sullivan that the new sanctions were a serious blow to
bilateral relations and that Moscow's response to them would follow
soon. The Foreign Ministry, in a statement, added that it was
entirely inappropriate for Washington to warn Moscow against further
In a letter to Congress, U.S. President Joe Biden informed
lawmakers that he had issued an executive order "declaring a
national emergency with respect to the unusual and extraordinary
threat to the national security, foreign policy and economy of the
United States" posed by specified harmful foreign activities
of Russia's government.
"Our objective here is not to escalate. Our objective here is to
impose costs for what we feel are unacceptable actions by the
Russian government," White House press secretary Jen Psaki told
Besides Thursday's widely anticipated moves by the Biden
administration, "there will be elements of these actions that will
remain unseen," and additional measures will be enacted if Moscow's
behavior does not change, a senior administration official, speaking
on condition of anonymity, told reporters.
Psaki said that despite Russia's behavior and the actions taken by
the president, Biden's invitation to Russian President Vladimir
Putin for a summit remained open.
U.S. Representative Adam Schiff, who heads the
House Intelligence Committee, said the president's actions
demonstrated that the United States "will no longer turn a blind eye
to Russian malign activity." But Schiff, in a statement,
predicted sanctions alone would not be enough to deter Russia's
"We must strengthen our own cyber defenses, take further action to
condemn Russia's human rights abuses, and, working in concert with
our allies and partners in Europe, deter further Russian military
aggression," Schiff said.
"I am glad to see the Biden administration formally attributing the
SolarWinds hack to Russian intelligence services and taking steps to
sanction some of the individuals and entities involved," said Senate
Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark Warner. "The scale and scope of
this hack are beyond any that we've seen before and should make
clear that we will hold Russia and other adversaries accountable
for committing this kind of malicious cyber activity against
Numerous Republican members of Congress, while praising the
president's action, are calling for more measures — particularly to
halt the controversial Nord Stream 2 project.
"If the Biden administration is serious about imposing real costs on
the Putin regime's efforts to undermine U.S. democratic institutions
and weaken our allies and partners, then it must ensure the Russian
malign influence Nord Stream 2 pipeline project is never completed,"
House Foreign Affairs Committee lead Republican Michael McCaul said in
Nord Stream 2 is a multibillion-dollar underwater gas pipeline
project linking Russia to Germany. Work on the pipeline was
suspended in December 2019 after it became a source of contention
between Russia and the West.
Nord Stream officials said Russia resumed construction on the gas
pipeline in December. The United States has opposed the joint
international project because of possible threats to Europe's energy
security. Nord Stream 2 is intended to double the annual gas
capacity of an existing Nord Stream pipeline.
The top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Jim
Risch, while commending the administration for the latest sanctions,
said he considered them "less than a half step forward. What is
missing is a robust effort to actually stop the completion of the
Nord Stream 2 pipeline. To change Russian behavior, the
administration must target Putin and impose real consequences."
Biden, according to the White House, told Putin in a phone call this
week that the United States "will act firmly in defense of its
national interests in response to Russia's actions, such as cyber
intrusions and election interference."
Biden's administration had already sanctioned seven Russian
officials and more than a dozen government entities last month in
response to Russia's treatment of opposition leader Alexey Navalny.
The U.S. actions taken Thursday expanded prohibitions on primary
market purchases of ruble-dominated Russian sovereign debt,
effective June 14.
"There's no credible reason why the American people should directly
fund Russia's government when the Putin regime has repeatedly
attempted to undermine our sovereignty," said a senior
administration official in explaining the move. "We're also
delivering a clear signal that the president has maximum flexibility
to expand the sovereign debt prohibitions if Russia's malign
activities continue or escalate."
Russia has largely ignored previous U.S. sanctions, which were
narrower and primarily targeted individuals.
"These are 'unfinished business' sanctions that telegraph the Biden
administration's more forceful approach to dealing with Russia. The
measures are dialed to make good on Biden's promise to significantly
impose costs on Russia without provoking a downward spiral in
relations," said Cyrus Newlin, associate fellow with the Europe,
Russia and Eurasia Program at the Center for Strategic &
"I think we could continue to see targeting against the Russian
intelligence agencies, potentially against Russian government
figures and their families, which is something that many sanctions
experts have been pushing for," according to Nina Jankowicz, a
Wilson Center disinformation fellow. "This is only the tip of the
iceberg of the full range of responses available to the U.S.
government, both public and nonpublic, that we can take in response
to Russia's malicious cyber activity."
"The economic consequences for Russia will be fairly minor: The
Russian financial system is much more insulated from sanctions than
it was in 2014, and new restrictions on sovereign debt don't extend
to secondary markets. I suspect Moscow will respond reciprocally
with diplomatic expulsions, but preserve political space for a
bilateral summit, which the Kremlin places high value on," said
Newlin at CSIS.
Biden administration has reserved more punishing sanctions options
in the event of further Russian aggression in Ukraine," added Newlin.
"These could be an expansion of sovereign debt restrictions to
secondary markets or measures targeting Russian state-owned
companies and banks. Against the backdrop of Ukraine, today's
measures also serve as a warning shot."
Jankowicz said she agreed with that assessment, noting "the timing
of this is pretty significant, because we've seen a buildup of
Russian troops along the Ukrainian border, the most significant
buildup since 2014."
According to Andrea Kendall-Taylor, senior fellow and director of
the Transatlantic Security Program at the Center for a New American
Security, this package of sanctions does not really relate to what
is going on with Ukraine. She terms it the Biden administration's
way of wrapping up unfinished business with other issues, allowing a
pivot "to a more proactive, future-oriented relationship with