April 16 (UPI) — President Joe Biden announced sanctions Thursday against nearly three dozen Russian individuals and entities for attempts to interfere in and influence the 2020 presidential election.
In remarks at the White House, Biden said he spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday and told him the United States would be “responding in a measured and proportionate way” after determining that Russia had interfered in the 2020 election and was responsible for a widespread cyberattack on U.S. agencies and corporations last year.
“Today, I’ve approved several steps, including expulsion of several Russian officials, as a consequence of their actions. I’ve also signed an executive order authorizing new measures, including sanctions to address specific harmful actions that Russia has taken against U.S. interests,” he said.
The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control issued the sanctions, which identify 16 people and 16 entities for meddling in the 2020 U.S. vote.
“[We] 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,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a statement. “This is the start of a new U.S. campaign against Russian malign behavior.”
Thursday’s sanctions are aimed at Russian actors who spread disinformation online during the electoral campaign — some of which, the department said, was carried out in behalf of the Russian government.
U.S. officials said 10 Russian diplomats will be expelled from the United States, including some Russian intelligence officials.
The sanctions place restrictions on Russia’s sovereign debt and affect Moscow’s ability to raise dollar-denominated bonds. The move could make potential Russia lenders cautious about being cut off from U.S. financial markets.
Similar restrictions have been used against Iran by the United States.
A declassified intelligence report last month said that Russian President Vladimir Putin authorized interference last year to hurt Biden’s campaign in an attempt to keep former President Donald Trump in the White House.
Russian actors also attempted to influence the outcome of the 2016 U.S. presidential election in Trump’s favor, efforts that drew sanctions from former President Barack Obama before he left office.
The sanctions Thursday also come in response to the SolarWinds cyberattack last year, which hit several U.S. government agencies and dozens of corporations in what officials believe was an intelligence-gathering project.
Biden said in an interview last month that he considers Putin a “killer” and promised that he will “pay a price” for interfering in the 2020 election.
“I will say one thing. These are very bad remarks on the part of the U.S. president,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov responded. “These are very bad relations.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said earlier this year that the administration had asked for a full assessment of both the SolarWinds attack and attempts to meddle in the election, which Biden won with more than 81 million votes nationwide. The assessments included examination of reports that Russia had offered bounties on U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan and the poisoning last year of prominent Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
The administration sanctioned Russia last month for the Navalny attack and his detention by Russian authorities.
Following Thursday’s sanctions, Biden said he told Putin he “could have gone further” but instead chose to be proportionate.
“The United States is not looking to kick off a cycle of escalation and conflict with Russia. We want a stable, predictable relationship,” he said. “If Russia continues to interfere with our democracy, I’m prepared to take further actions to respond. It is my responsibility, as President of the United States, to do so.”
During the phone call with Putin on Tuesday, Biden suggested that they schedule a summit to address multiple issues, including the buildup of Russian troops along the Crimean border with Ukraine.
“Out of that summit — were it to occur, and I believe it will — the United States and Russia could launch a strategic stability dialogue to pursue cooperation in arms control and security,” Biden said Thursday. “We can address critical global challenges that require Russia and the United States to work together, including reigning in nuclear threats from Iran and North Korea, ending this pandemic globally and meeting the existential crisis of climate change.”
Moscow has been moving additional troops to the border area in recent weeks, purportedly as part of a training exercise. Russia controversially annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, a move that drew international condemnation.