US expels Russian diplomats, imposes dozens of new sanctions

Darnell Taylor
April 16, 2021

The compromise of the SolarWinds IT services firm - discovered last December - is thought to represent one of the most serious cyber espionage attacks suffered by the US.

The statement said "no known Canadian entities have been exploited to date", but investigations are ongoing.

A further eight people and entities linked to Russia's occupation of Crimea also face sanctions.

The series of US statements on Russian cyber-operations had other revelations: The Treasury Department formally linked Russia's FSB intelligence agency with a ransomware gang known as EvilCorp.

Other measures are expected as well, though the administration is not likely to announce them.

Last month, USA intelligence officials accused Russian Federation of trying to help former president Donald Trump's reelection campaign.

In a potentially conciliatory gesture, the USA this week dropped plans to send two warships into the Black Sea after Russian Federation warned the move would be "extremely provocative".

Russian Federation and Americans are both proud and patriotic people.

Also Thursday, an American official said the USA found with low to moderate confidence that Russian intelligence officers offered bounties in 2019 to encourage Taliban to attack American and coalition personnel in Afghanistan.

The United States has imposed new sanctions and restrictions on Russia in response to actions by the Russian government and intelligence services against US interests and sovereignty, according to an executive order issued by President Joe Biden on Thursday, April 15.

But, he added, "where possible, the United States will also seek opportunities for co-operation with Russian Federation, with the goal of building a more stable and predictable relationship consistent with USA interests".

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Reports of alleged "bounties" surfaced past year, with the Trump administration coming under fire for not raising the issue directly with Russian Federation.

The sweeping measures are meant to punish Russian Federation for actions that US officials say cut to the core of American democracy and to deter future acts by imposing economic costs on Moscow, including by targeting its ability to borrow money. 'The responsibility for that will fully lie with the United States'.

Maria Zakharova, the Russian foreign ministry spokesman, said: "Washington should realise that it will have to pay a price".

She said the foreign ministry had summoned the USA ambassador for a "hard conversation" but gave no further details of what actions would follow. But they are certain to exacerbate an already tense relationship between the USA and Russian Federation.

The latest tension comes against a backdrop of longterm anger in Washington at Russian election meddling and worries both in the United States and its European allies over Russia's recent troop build up on the border of Ukraine.

"When I spoke to President Putin, I expressed my belief that communication between the two of us personally and directly, was to be essential in moving forward to a more effective relationship", Biden said during a Thursday press conference.

During the press call Thursday, a senior administration official said the intelligence community has "low to moderate" confidence that Russian intelligence officers "sought to encourage Taliban attacks on US personnel in 2019 and perhaps earlier, including through financial incentives and compensation". Putin later recalled his ambassador to the USA and pointed at the US history of slavery and slaughtering Native Americans and the atomic bombing of Japan in World War II.

Russian Federation denies meddling in US elections, orchestrating a cyber hack that used USA tech company SolarWinds Corp to penetrate US government networks, and using a nerve agent to poison Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.

It remained unclear whether the United States actions would actually result in changed behavior especially since past measures by the USA have failed to bring an end to Russian hacking. And though Trump was often reluctant to criticize Putin his administration also expelled diplomats in 2018 for Russian Federation alleged poisoning of an ex-intelligence officer in Britain.

"I'd be surprised if today's very calibrated announcements by the Biden administration materially shift the relationship in either direction", he said, saying Russian Federation was willing to cooperate on some issues but there was unlikely ever to be a meeting of the minds on Ukraine or election interference.

United States officials are still grappling with the after effects of the SolarWinds intrusion which affected agencies including the Treasury Justice Energy and Homeland Security departments and are still assessing what information may have been stolen. The breach exposed vulnerabilities in the private supply chain as well as weaknesses in the federal government's own cyber defenses. Last month the U.S. sanctioned seven midlevel and senior Russian officials along with more than a dozen government entities over a almost fatal nerve-agent attack on opposition leader Alexei Navalny and his subsequent jailing.

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