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US expels Russian diplomats, issues sanctions

April 15, 2021

The US has announced sanctions against Russian entities and expelled 10 Russian diplomats in response to a hacking attack and election interference.

USA Russland Kombo Joe Biden und Putin
Image: Eric Baradat/Pavel Golovkin/AFP

The United States on Thursday announced the expulsion of 10 Russian diplomats and issued a broad array of sanctions targeting Russian individuals and entities for election interference, hacking efforts and other "malign" activities. 

The sanctions represent the first retaliatory action announced against the Kremlin for last year's hacking attack, which has been called the "SolarWinds" breach.

The measures include sanctions on six Russian companies that are alleged to have aided the country's cyber activities.

A further 32 individuals and entities are accused of attempting to interfere in last year's presidential election, including by spreading disinformation.

The White House said that the 10 diplomats being expelled include representatives of the Russian intelligence services.

What is Russia being accused of?

President Joe Biden's administration had previously said it would act to hold the Kremlin accountable for interference in last year's presidential election and the hacking of several federal agencies.

In the attack, Russian hackers are suspected of having infected software with malicious codes that gave them access to US government agency networks.

It is thought that they infiltrated at least nine agencies in an intelligence-gathering project to mine government secrets.

In addition to the hacking, US officials last month claimed that Russian President Vladimir Putin personally authorized operations to help Donald Trump in his unsuccessful bid for reelection. 

Former President Donald Trump played down the cyberattacks and cast doubt on his administration's assessment that Russia was behind them. He has suggested, without evidence, that China, instead of Russia, could be behind the hacks.

The White House also said Biden was using diplomatic, military and intelligence channels to respond to reports that Russia paid the Taliban to attack US and allied troops in Afghanistan. 

Reports of alleged "bounties" surfaced last year, with Trump's administration coming under fire for not raising the issue directly with Russia. 

Russian cyberespionage comes to Germany

Moscow to respond soon

The Russian Foreign Ministry said it would respond in the near future to the sanctions, and that it had summoned the US ambassador in Moscow.

"The US ambassador in Russia is at our foreign ministry right now. I would hardly have said this before, but I can say it now: It's not going to be a pleasant meeting for him," ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told a news briefing.

Biden told Putin this week in their second call to "de-escalate tensions" over a Russian military buildup on the border with Ukraine, that the US would "act firmly in defense of its national interests'' regarding Russian intrusions and election interference.

In a show of solidarity with the US, Poland declared three Russian diplomats, employees of the Russian embassy in Warsaw, as personae non-gratae. In a tit-for-tat response, Russia said it would expel three Polish diplomats.

NATO voices support for measures

In a statement following the US announcement of sanctions, the NATO defense alliance issued a statement of support.

"NATO Allies support and stand in solidarity with the United States, following its 15 April announcement of actions to respond to Russia’s destabilizing activities," said the statement. "Allies are taking actions individually and collectively to enhance the alliance's collective security."

"Russia continues to demonstrate a sustained pattern of destabilizing behavior, including its violations of Ukraine’s and Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and continued violation, non-implementation, and circumvention of numerous international obligations and commitments."

The European Union also expressed solidarity, saying the hacking had also compromised EU interests.

"The compromise affected governments and businesses worldwide, including in EU members," said EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell.

rc/wmr (FP, AP, Reuters)