Today the Biden administration took Russia and the Putin administration to task for a panoply of issues to include the Afghan bounties, espionage, cyber attacks (SolarWinds), election interference, and global expansionism.
To this end, President Joe Biden issued an Executive Order (EO) “Blocking Property with Respect to Specified Harmful Foreign Activities of the Government of the Russian Federation,” which EO expands the scope of sanction authorities available to the United States, providing authority to block the property and interests of individuals identified as being engaged in supporting the Russian malevolent efforts blocked.
Holding Russia to Account
The U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken issued a statement on holding Russia to account. He noted that the Department was expelling 10 officials from Russia’s bilateral mission – which means that the individuals could come from the Russian embassy or consulates within the United States, but not Russia’s United Nation’s mission. The identities of the individuals were not public; however, it’s not hard to assume that they will include a large cadre of Russian intelligence officers assigned to the United States.
Russia also saw a series of wide-ranging sanctions issued by the U.S. Treasury, using the authority of the aforementioned EO. Treasury Secretary, Janet L. Yellen said, “Treasury is leveraging this new authority to impose costs on the Russian government for its unacceptable conduct, including by limiting Russia’s ability to finance its activities and by targeting Russia’s malicious and disruptive cyber capabilities.” Treasury’s sanctions included:
- Sovereign debt prohibitions prohibiting U.S. financial institutions from participating in primary market for ruble or non-ruble denominated bonds issued after June 14, 2021.
- Designated five companies within the technology sector supporting Russian Intelligence Services
- Designated the Russian Security Service (FSB), Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), and the Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU – military intelligence) are sanctioned and those companies found to be providing support will be sanctioned in the future.
In addition, Treasury sanctioned 16 entities and 16 individuals who attempted to influence the 2020 U.S. presidential election. Yellen note, “Treasury will target Russian leaders, officials, intelligence services, and their proxies that attempt to interfere in the U.S. electoral process or subvert U.S. democracy.” The notice goes on to describe the global activities of each entity and individual in the creation and distribution of disinformation and misinformation.
The sanction announcement makes clear the implications: “As a result of today’s action, all property and interests in property of the designated persons described above that are in the United States or in the possession or control of U.S. persons are blocked and must be reported to OFAC. ”
“U.S. Treasury has sanctioned known disinformation outlets and centers, that are fronts for Russian intelligence and foreign ministry. These media outlets have long been known to spread disinformation in U.S., on many issues, including prior elections, in order to cause further division and distrust, among the American people. Sanctioning these centers and media outlets is an important first step, but it is crucial that we come up with measures countering and cutting off disinformation, disseminated via social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter. Ukraine, who has been a testing group for these disinformation operations, seen in the West, has recently launched a department specifically aimed at countering disinformation in a transparent manner to make the public aware.” said researcher on Russia foreign affairs and corruption, Olga Lautman.
Russia was not blindsided
Earlier in the week, United States President Biden and Russian Federation President Putin held a telephone conference call. The readouts from both Biden and Putin make no reference to the many facets of the actions taken today; however, it is rare that a public readout would mention all topics covered. That said, National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan noted today that Putin was given a heads up by Biden that additional sanctions were coming.
Media reports Russian foreign ministry spokesperson, Maria Zakharova’s reaction to the sanctions and expulsions, “The response to the sanctions will be inescapable. Washington must realize that they will have to pay for the degradation of bilateral relations. The responsibility for what is happening lies entirely with the United States of America.”