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Biden hits Russia with new sanctions in response to election meddling


Joe Biden announced new United States sanctions on Russia, including the expulsion of 10 diplomats, in retaliation for hacking and election interference.

The sanctions, foreshadowed for weeks by the administration, represent the first retaliatory action announced against the Kremlin for last year’s hack, familiarly known as the SolarWinds breach.

In that intrusion, Russian hackers are believed to have infected widely used software with malicious code, enabling them to access the networks of at least nine agencies in what US officials believe was an intelligence-gathering operation aimed at mining government secrets.

Besides that hack, US officials last month alleged that Russia’s President Vladimir Putin authorized influence operations to help Donald Trump in his unsuccessful bid for re-election as president, though there is no evidence Russia or anyone else changed votes or manipulated the outcome.

The sanctions, presumably intended to send a clear retributive message to Russia and to deter similar acts in the future, come amid an already tense relationship between the US and Russia.

Biden told Putin this week in their second call to “de-escalate tensions” following a Russian military buildup on Ukraine’s border, and said the US would “act firmly in defense of its national interests” regarding Russian intrusions and election interference.

In a television interview last month, Biden replied “I do” when asked if he thought Putin was a “killer”. He said the days of the US “rolling over” to Putin were done. Putin later recalled his ambassador to the US and pointed at the US history of slavery and slaughtering Native Americans and the atomic bombing of Japan in the second world war.

It remained unclear whether the US actions would actually result in changed behavior, especially since past measures by the US have failed to bring an end to Russian hacking. The Obama administration expelled diplomats from the US in 2016 in response to interference in that year’s presidential election. And though Trump was often reluctant to criticize Putin, his administration also expelled diplomats in 2018 for Russia’s alleged poisoning of an ex-intelligence officer in Britain.

US 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 supply chain as well as weaknesses in the federal government’s own cyber defenses.

The actions would represent the second major round of sanctions imposed by the Biden administration against Russia. Last month, the US sanctioned seven mid-level and senior Russian officials, along with more than a dozen government entities, over a nearly fatal nerve-agent attack on the opposition leader Alexei Navalny and his subsequent jailing.



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