The United States has signed an executive order that imposes a broad array of sanctions on Russia over alleged election interference and malicious cyber activity.
The sanctions, foreshadowed for weeks by the US administration, represent the first retaliatory action announced against the Kremlin for last year’s hack, familiarly known as the SolarWinds breach.
The measures blacklisted Russian companies, expelled Russian diplomats and placed limits on the Russian sovereign debt market. More penalties could come, although Washington did not want to escalate matters, the Biden administration said.
The executive order allows the U.S. government to sanction any sector of the Russian economy and used it to restrict Russia’s ability to issue sovereign debt to punish Moscow for interfering in the 2020 U.S. election.
Biden stopped U.S. financial institutions from taking part in the primary market for rouble-denominated Russian sovereign bonds from June 14. U.S. banks have been barred from taking part in the primary market for non-rouble sovereign bonds since 2019.
The U.S. Treasury also blacklisted 32 entities and individuals which it said had carried out Russian government-directed attempts to influence the 2020 U.S. presidential election and other “acts of disinformation and interference”.
This move gives a huge blow to the already strained relationship between Washington and Moscow even amid the dragging controversy and test of powers as both countries step up their military activities near Ukraine.
In the past few weeks, Washington and its NATO allies raised concerns over the large build-up of Russian troops near Ukraine and in Crimea, the peninsula that Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014.
Asides from the Ukraine matter, there is also the issue of a cybersecurity breach that took place late last year, affecting software made by SolarWinds Corp as hackers gained access to thousands of companies and government offices that used the company’s products. The US has said it was likely orchestrated by Russia but Kremlin denies.
It would be recalled also that Biden had vowed Moscow for alleged interference in the 2020 U.S. presidential election following reports from the US intelligence that Russia tried to manipulate the process in the favour of ex-president, Donald Trump.
Biden earlier vowed to take action on reports that Russia offered bounties to Taliban militants to kill U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
In a call on Tuesday, Biden told Putin that the United States would act “firmly” to defend its interests in response to those actions, according to U.S. officials’ account of the call.
However, Russia had long seemed ready for the possibility as Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov last week told reporters that “the hostility and unpredictability of America’s actions force us in general to be prepared for the worst scenarios.”