US president Joe Biden has announced sanctions against a number of Russian officials and ordered the immediate expulsion of ten diplomats from the country, following allegations of election interference and hacking.
The measures, announced jointly with the UK, target 32 blacklisted entities and individuals from Russian technology and construction forms, according to reports, amid mounting tensions.
The sanctions come in response to the SolarWinds breach that was identified in December. The US government said for the first time on Thursday that that the hack, which affected at least 100 private-sector businesses and nine federal agencies, was carried out by Russia.
The UK’s foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, also accused Russia of hacking on Thursday, saying the UK stood with the US.
"The UK and US are calling out Russia's malicious behaviour, to enable our international partners and businesses at home to better defend and prepare themselves against this kind of action,” said Mr Raab.
He added that the two "will continue to work with allies to call out Russia's malign behaviour where we see it."
The US had last month warned of “seen and unseen” responses to the attack, alleging that Russian president Vladimir Putin authorised attempts to swing the 2020 US presidential election in favour of Donald Trump.
US intelligence officials said in a report last month that Mr Putin sought to influence the 2020 election by spreading misleading information about Joe Biden. Russia termed the allegations “baseless.”
On Thursday, Russian officials warned of retaliation for the round of sanctions, also targeting eight people and entities tied to the occupation of Crimea.
The actions come amid an already frosty relationship between the US and Russia. Last month, the US imposed sanctions on seven senior Russian officials and 14 entities over the poisoning of opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
Anthony Blinken, the US secretary of state, said in a statement on Thursday: "These actions are intended to hold Russia to account for its reckless actions. We will act firmly in response to Russian actions that cause harm to us or our allies and partners”.
Mr Biden had warned in an interview with ABC News that the Russian president “will pay a price” for efforts to interfere in the elections. Asked if Mr Putin was a killer, Mr Biden said, “I do.”
Soon after, Russia called its US ambassador back to Moscow but did not give specific reasons for Anatoly Antonov’s return. Russian foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said at the time: “The main thing for us is to determine the ways in which the difficult Russian-American relations that Washington has led into a dead end in recent years could be rectified.”
In a call with Mr Putin on Tuesday, Mr Biden proposed a summit meeting “in a third country” in the coming months to discuss the full range of issues facing the US and Russia. He also told the Russian president that the US “will act firmly in defence of its national interests in response to Russia’s actions, such as cyber intrusions and election interference,” according to a White House readout of the call.
Mr Blinken added that "Where possible, the United States will also seek opportunities for cooperation with Russia, with the goal of building a more stable and predictable relationship consistent with US interests."
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