United States President Joe Biden has signed an executive order that imposes a slate of new sanctions against Russia, as well as expelling 10 diplomats from the US, in response to a massive Russian hacking campaign that breached vital federal agencies, as well as for election interference.
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.
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.
The order “sends a signal that the United States will impose costs in a strategic and economically impactful manner on Russia if it continues or escalates its destabilizing international actions,” the White House said in a statement.
Besides that hack, US officials last month alleged that Russian President Vladimir Putin authorised influence operations to help former US President Donald Trump in his unsuccessful bid for re-election, although there’s no evidence that Russia or anyone else changed votes or manipulated the outcome.
Russia has denied involvement in both the SolarWinds hack and the election meddling.
The White House on Thursday said the most recent punitive actions were also motivated by Moscow “targeting dissidents or journalists” and the undermining of “security in countries and regions important to the United States national security”, apparent references to the alleged Russian nerve-agent attack on opposition leader Alexey Navalny and a recent build-up of troops along the border of Ukraine.
In its statement on Thursday, the administration also referenced a CIA assessment that Russia offered to pay bounties to members of the Taliban in Afghanistan to target US troops, saying that due to the “sensitivity of this matter”, the response is being handled through diplomatic, military and intelligence channels.
Speaking to CNN before the announcement, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan called the actions “proportionate measures to defend American interests in response to harmful Russian actions including cyber intrusions and election interference”.