The Biden administration slapped sweeping sanctions on Russia Thursday over Moscow’s alleged interference in the 2020 election, the massive SolarWinds hack and the ongoing occupation of Crimea, signaling it is adopting a tougher posture toward the Kremlin and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The sanctions announcement also showed that the Biden administration is more willing to directly call out Russia’s meddling in US affairs after Trump administration officials had to dance around former President Donald Trump’s frequent unwillingness to criticize Moscow.
Here are the key takeaways from Thursday’s sanctions:
Sanctions now align with the President’s rhetoric
The Trump administration was more than willing to issue sanctions against Russia, and did so on multiple occasions, including over the occupation of Crimea, the poisoning of an ex-spy in the United Kingdom, and even election interference.
But those actions were taken while Trump himself repeatedly refused to condemn Russia’s actions. He would not acknowledge Russia’s election interference in 2016, bristling at the notion Russia helped his campaign, even as his top national security officials unanimously said they agreed with the intelligence community assessment that Moscow interfered.
It went beyond the 2016 election, however. Last year, Trump declined to condemn Russia over the poisoning of Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny. He and his top officials downplayed Russia’s meddling in the 2020 election, arguing China was a bigger threat – a claim contradicted by last month’s intelligence community report on 2020 foreign election interference.
President Joe Biden has been vocal in his criticisms of Putin, calling him a “killer” last month and saying Moscow would “pay a price” for its election interference efforts. The sanctions issued Thursday back up that rhetoric.
Biden informed Putin in a call this week he was imposing the sanctions, and he’s seeking a “stable and predictable” relationship with Russia, a senior administration official said Thursday.
Sanctions are strongest US response to date to massive hack
The Russia sanctions are the Biden administration’s most significant step yet in responding to the SolarWinds hacking campaign, which has compromised at least nine federal agencies and dozens of private organizations.
Under Thursday’s new executive order, the administration imposed sanctions on six Russian tech companies that it said have supported Russian intelligence. Russian agencies including the FSB, GRU and SVR have conducted “some of the most dangerous and disruptive cyber attacks in recent history,” the Treasury Department said in announcing the sanctions.
US intelligence agencies on Thursday issued a technical advisory warning of the tactics used by Russian agents to compromise network security.
The Biden administration also said it is exploring whether to invoke Trump’s executive order on technology supply chains to introduce additional policies aimed at preventing Russian cyberattacks in the future.
Russian hacking has long been a problem for the US government. The goal of Thursday’s sanctions is to deter Moscow, though it remains to be seen whether they will actually have that effect.
Flicking at collusion, all these years later
With one sentence in a 2,000-word press release, the Treasury Department perhaps did more to lay out the case for potential Trump-Russia collusion in the 2016 election than has happened before.
The Treasury statement confirmed that Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian-linked intelligence operative, provided Russian intelligence with “