WHITE HOUSE – The United States is taking action to punish Russia for what it describes as “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, D.C., 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.
Besides Thursday’s widely anticipated moves by the Biden administration, “there will be elements of these actions that will remain unseen,” a senior administration official, speaking on condition of not being identified, told reporters.
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In a letter to Congress, the president informed lawmakers 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.
“The Biden administration has been clear that the United States desires a relationship with Russia that is stable and predictable,” the White House said in a statement. “We do not think that we need to continue on a negative trajectory. 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.”
A senior administration official told reporters, “We do not seek, we do not desire a downward spiral,” emphasizing that Thursday’s actions are proportionate and tailored. If, however, Russia’s behavior does not change, the United States is prepared to enact additional measures, according to the official.
Congressman Adam Schiff, who heads the House Intelligence Committee, said the president’s actions demonstrate the United States “will no longer turn a blind eye to Russian malign activity.” But Schiff, in a statement, predicted sanctions alone will not be enough to deter Russia’s misbehavior.
“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 Mark Warner, chairman of the Senate’s intelligence committee. “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 American targets.”
Michael McCaul, lead Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, is calling for tougher action.
“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,” McCaul said in a statement.
“Therefore, I urge the Biden administration to make additional sanctions designations today on the numerous entities widely known to be actively involved in the pipeline project as is required by congressionally mandated sanctions.”
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.
Meanwhile, another House Republican, John Katko, who is the ranking member of the Homeland Security committee, commended the president for taking “justified steps” to hold Russia accountable for a range of malign activity.
Biden, according to the White House, told Russian President Vladimir Putin in a phone call earlier 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.
VOA’s Katherine Gypson contributed to this report.