Tensions mount as US sanctions Russia and expels diplomats

Moscow says additional measures ‘dangerously raise temperature of confrontation’

Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova accused the US of using its currency and the global financial system as ‘a tool of its aggressive policy’. Photograph: EPA

Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova accused the US of using its currency and the global financial system as ‘a tool of its aggressive policy’. Photograph: EPA

 

The United States has imposed fresh sanctions on Russia and expelled 10 of its diplomats, including suspected spies, in response to Moscow’s alleged election interference, cyberattacks and aggression against Ukraine.

US president Joe Biden also barred his country’s financial institutions from buying new rouble-denominated Russian state debt, which could weaken the nation’s currency and its ability to raise money on world markets during the current economic downturn.

Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova described the sanctions as “an attempt to destroy bilateral relations” and said the US ambassador to Moscow had been called to the ministry for what would be a “tough” conversation.

The measures were announced just two days after Mr Biden had a first conversation as president with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin and suggested that they hold a summit, amid international concern over a major build-up of Russian troops and armour close to Ukraine’s eastern border and in occupied Crimea.

Mr Biden said Russia’s meddling in US elections, malicious cyberactivity, use of corruption to manipulate foreign governments, targeting of critics abroad and destabilisation of Russian allies “constitute an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States”.

“The Biden administration has been clear that the United States desires a relationship with Russia that is stable and predictable . . . However, we have also been clear – publicly and privately – that we will defend our national interests and impose costs for Russian government actions that seek to harm us.”

Washington sanctioned 32 individuals and entities for meddling in the 2020 US presidential election and conducting “other acts of disinformation and interference” on Moscow’s behalf, and eight others that were “associated with Russia’s ongoing occupation and repression in Crimea”.

The US also targeted six technology firms “that provide support” to Russian security agencies, and accused Moscow’s SVR foreign intelligence service of being behind last year’s so-called SolarWinds attack, which allowed it “to spy on or potentially disrupt more than 16,000 computer systems worldwide”.

Response from Russia

The White House also announced the expulsion of 10 Russian diplomats based in Washington, including “representatives of Russian intelligence services”.

“We have repeatedly warned the United States about the consequences of their hostile steps, which dangerously raise the temperature of confrontation between our countries,” said Ms Zakharova.

“Such aggressive behaviour will without doubt be decisively rebuffed. Washington should realise that it will have to pay for the degradation in our bilateral relations. Responsibility for what is happening lies entirely with the United States,” she added, noting that a response from Russia was “unavoidable”.

Ms Zakharova also accused the US of using its currency and the global financial system as “a tool of its aggressive policy” and questioned whether it was wise for Russia to continue using the dollar in international transactions and relying on “payment systems controlled by the West”.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Mr Putin had not decided whether to take up Mr Biden’s offer of a summit, but emphasised that the imposition of new sanctions “would in no way facilitate such a meeting”.

News Digests

Stay on top of the latest newsSIGN UP HERE