Moscow / Washington (dpa) – In response to the expulsion of ten Russian diplomats from the US, Russia imposed an entry ban on senior US government officials.
They include Attorney General Merrick Garland and Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, two members of the cabinet of US President Joe Biden. The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced this in Moscow on Friday evening. A total of eight current and former government officials were denied entry to the country. These include FBI chief Christopher Wray, US intelligence coordinator Avril Haines and former security adviser to Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump, John Bolton.
Biden and the head of the Kremlin, Vladimir Putin, had previously spoken out in favor of de-escalation of the conflict. Shortly afterwards, on Friday, Russia announced the expulsion of ten American diplomats. Moscow also imposed sanctions on the United States. Secretary of State Sergei Lavrov told the Interfax agency that Russia would also limit the work of American organizations and foundations that interfered with the country’s internal affairs. Business trips to Russia by American diplomats would also be largely scaled back.
In addition, the Secretary advised US Ambassador John Sullivan to travel home to hold consultations in Washington. Russia had previously withdrawn its ambassador, Anatoly Antonov, from Washington. The entry bans for American ministers are probably mainly of a symbolic nature. Planned trips from Garland or Mayorkas to Russia are unknown.
The White House in Washington on Thursday ordered the deportation of Russian diplomats in retaliation for a hacking attack attributed to Moscow and interference in the US election. In addition, a number of new sanctions have been imposed. Six Russian technology companies supporting Moscow’s secret services are among those affected. In addition, according to the US, 32 people and organizations are being sanctioned who tried to influence the US elections on behalf of Moscow.
From Washington’s point of view, the punitive measures must also include retaliation for a massive hacker attack on US government departments, authorities and businesses that 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.
A response from Russia was expected. The Kremlin had previously announced, “The principle of reciprocity in such matters has not been abolished.” The decision will be made by President Putin, his spokesman, Dmitri Peskov, said, according to the Interfax office. Relations between the two countries have long been compromised.
Usually, Russia does not publish names of people sanctioned by Moscow. The ministry had deviated from usual practice this time, the state agency Tass wrote. The reason is the “unprecedented magnitude of the restrictions Washington has caused in Russian-US relations,” the ministry said.
After the US sanctions were announced, Biden initially struck more conciliatory notes, stressing that he did not want to further stir tensions with Moscow. “The US does not intend to initiate a cycle of escalation and conflict with Russia,” Biden said at the White House on Thursday (local time). At the same time, he warned, “If Russia continues to interfere in our democracy, I am ready to take further action.”
Prior to Russia’s retaliation, the Kremlin had welcomed Biden’s desire to de-escalate. Putin’s position is also convinced that relations between the two countries should not escalate, Kremlin spokesman Peskov said, according to the Interfax agency. “In this respect, it is positive that the positions of both heads of state are in agreement.”
Biden had made a proposal for Putin in a third country during a telephone conversation on Tuesday. On Thursday, the US president said his proposal should hold such a meeting in Europe in the summer. It remains to be seen whether Putin will accept the invitation. In the Kremlin it was said that sanctions for such top plans are not helpful. Ultimately, however, the heads of state would have to decide for themselves whether to meet.
The northern EU country Finland has now indicated its willingness to host the meeting with Putin proposed by Biden. The willingness to organize the possible meeting had been presented to both Washington and Moscow, Finnish President Sauli Niinistö’s office announced Friday at the request of the German news agency.
In 2018, a summit between Putin and then US President Donald Trump had already taken place in Helsinki. Finland, like its Nordic neighbors Norway and Sweden, is known for mediating in international diplomacy. The non-NATO member is also the EU country with the longest border with Russia.
Moscow also reacted surprisingly hard to the expulsion of three Russian diplomats from Poland. The Foreign Ministry announced in Moscow that five Polish diplomats would have to leave Russia. Previously there were three embassy employees. Moscow normally responds “smoothly” and expels as many diplomats as the other country has to leave. Warsaw had explained its actions, among other things, by the fact that the Russian employees had violated the conditions for diplomats. At the same time, Poland wants to show solidarity with the US decision.