Washington (AP) – In retaliation for a hacker attack blamed on Moscow and meddling in the US election, the US expelled ten Russian diplomats and imposed a number of new sanctions.
The White House said on Thursday that diplomats from the Washington representation include five employees of Russian intelligence services. In addition, US financial companies are banned from trading in Russian government debt, which will be issued from mid-June. The move will increase the cost of Moscow’s debt service, lead to capital flight and weaken the ruble and Russian economy, a senior US government official said.
About a quarter of Russia’s debt is in the hands of foreign investors, he said. The ban will not only affect US banks, but will also have a “further deterrent effect,” the official said. The trading ban applies to the primary market for ruble bonds and for securities denominated in foreign currencies, such as euros or US dollars. He warned that the president had “maximum flexibility” to tighten the ban if necessary.
The US government has made it clear that it wants a “stable and predictable relationship with Russia,” the White House said. “We don’t believe we should stay on a negative course.” However, Russia should know that the US “will defend its national interests” and punish Moscow for hostile acts, it said.
Six Russian technology companies supporting Moscow’s secret services have been subject to sanctions. In addition, 32 people and organizations would be punished for attempting to influence the US elections on behalf of Moscow, the White House said. Eight other people or companies, in concert with US allies, including the European Union, would be punished for Russia’s continued occupation of Crimea. The transatlantic community is united in Ukraine and is calling on Russia to stop the recent troop deployment along the border and stop its aggressive rhetoric.
Russia appointed US Ambassador John S. Sullivan to the State Department for the expulsion of its diplomats and the new sanctions. It will be a difficult conversation for the American side, said spokeswoman Maria Sakharov of the ministry in Moscow on Thursday. “Such aggressive behavior will undoubtedly be rejected, a response to the sanctions will be inevitable.” Russian foreign politicians said Russia would “mirror” and expel ten American diplomats in return.
US President Joe Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, had previously stated in an interview with CNN that it was “about providing a meaningful and credible answer, but not escalating the situation.” These are “appropriate” measures to defend US interests, he said. The US and Russia, despite their differences, could work together on different issues, such as disarmament issues, and have a “stable and predictable relationship,” Sullivan said.
The sanctions would include retaliation for a massive hacker attack on US government departments, authorities and companies, which US security authorities suspect is behind Russia. The attackers had gained access to the networks using SolarWinds maintenance software, which was widely used and went unnoticed for months. The case, which became public in December, was an embarrassing setback for the US security forces.
The White House said the US has now made Russia’s foreign intelligence agency SVR officially responsible for the hacking attack. The cyber attack gave Russia the ability to spy on or disrupt more than 16,000 computer systems around the world.
The US government is also taking action against a bounty reportedly offered by Russia to encourage the Taliban to attack US soldiers in Afghanistan. These actions would only be communicated through military and diplomatic channels, as well as through the secret services, because they also concern the “security and welfare” of US forces, the White House said.
Biden had suggested a meeting with Putin during Tuesday’s talk. Sullivan said the offer was still open. Biden believes the relationship between the two countries is in “a very difficult situation where we face the risk of a tailspin,” Sullivan told CNN. That’s why Biden and Putin should meet to discuss the differences and sketch a way forward.