The US government is set to impose sanctions on around a dozen Russian government and intelligence officials, as well as 20 entities linked to Russian security services – some of which the US government believes are tied to the Solarwinds cyberattack.
The sanctions, which could be announced this week, are meant to punish these individuals and entities for their alleged role in tampering with the 2020 elections and the SolarWinds hack.
According to a Bloomberg report, an anonymous source said the sanctions could result in around 10 Russian diplomats being expelled from the US.
This appears to have been a long time coming, as Biden highlighted last year’s SolarWinds hack and suspected Russian interference in the 2020 election on his first day in office as priority items to be reviewed.
The sanctions come just days after Biden and Putin spoke on Tuesday, where Biden made clear that the US would act firmly to defend its national interests in response to Russia’s actions, particularly where cyber intrusions and election interference are concerned.
The SolarWinds hack took place in early 2020, when Russia-linked hackers allegedly broke into the Texas-based tech firm’s systems and plugged malicious code into the company’s system, “Orion,” – a crime which went undetected for months.
This malicious code allowed hackers to gain backdoor access to the IT systems of SolarWinds clients – which included Fortune 500 companies like Microsoft, Cisco, Intel, and Deloitte. Sectors of the US government, including parts of the Pentagon, the Department of Homeland Security, the State Department, the Department of Energy, the National Nuclear Security Administration, and the Treasury, were also affected by the cyberattack.
Bloomberg also reported that these sanctions are also an effort to take the Russians to task for interfering in the 2020 election. According to Bloomberg, US intelligence has confirmed that the Russians are responsible for seeding nuggets of fake information during Biden’s 2020 campaign, particularly through outlets under the control of Russian intelligence officials.
The Russians, however, have pledged to retaliate if the US were to impose new sanctions, as top Russian diplomat Sergey Lavrov called the US’s foreign policy on Russia “deadlocked,” “dumb,” and ineffective.
Russian opposition leader and vocal Putin critic, Alexey Navalny, lost his court appeal and faces a transfer to a prison camp within days, Reuters reported.
The former lawyer was arrested after landing back in Russia, following his Berlin-based hospitalization. He was being treated for a near-fatal nerve agent attack, that he has blamed on Russian president, Vladimir Putin, The BBC reported.
His arrest, for charges he claims are fabricated, has sparked mass protests across Russia and escalated tensions with Western governments, seeing condemnation from the EU and US, The Guardian reported.
The Kremlin, Russia’s government, denies any involvement in his poisoning.
Navalny called the charges “absurd” as he was unable to report to police during recovery.
“The whole world knew where I was,” he said. “Once I’d recovered, I bought a plane ticket and came home,” The BBC reported. “The main thing I want to say is don’t be afraid,” he said, in a speech that cited the Bible, the Harry Potter series and sci-fi cartoon series Rick and Morty.
On February 16, the European court of human rights (ECHR) ruled that Russia risked breaching the European Convention on Human Rights if it did not release Navalny immediately, according to Bloomberg. This court decision was rejected by officials in Moscow.
Despite dismissing the appeal, the judge did reduce Navalny’s three-year sentence in a penal colony by six weeks, per The BBC.
Navalny is also unlikely to get an early release as he has been labeled an escape threat, the state-run Tass news service reported Friday, citing a member of Russia’s Public Oversight Committee.
His defense team said it would appeal Saturday’s ruling, Bloomberg reported.
The opposition activist faces a fine of 950,000 rubles ($13,000) in a separate case later on Saturday. He stands accused of slandering a second world war veteran who praised President Putin, per The Guardian.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has finally congratulated Joe Biden on winning the US presidential election more than a month after the final votes were cast and several weeks after most world leaders.
The Kremlin had previously said that Putin would wait until the Electoral College confirmed the results of the election on Monday before formally recognizing Biden as the President-elect, despite Russia having been one of the first world leaders to congratulate Donald Trump on his victory.
A Kremlin spokesperson said in a statement cited by Reuters that “Putin wished the president-elect every success and expressed confidence that Russia and the United States, which have a special responsibility for global security and stability, could, despite their differences, really help to solve the many problems and challenges facing the world.”
“For my part, I am ready for interaction and contact with you,” Putin told the President-elect, per the statement.
Putin was one of the last major world leaders to congratulate Biden on winning the election, with most countries having congratulated Biden shortly after the final polling day on November 3.
“We believe the correct thing to do would be to wait for the official election result,” said a Kremlin spokesman on November 9, per NBC News, citing the fact that President Trump was seeking lodging multiple legal challenges to challenge, none of which have since been successful.
Trump’s initial refusal to concede the election formally to Biden allowed Putin to amplify the president’s conspiracy theories about the US election, a move which analysts say could aid Russia’s strategic goal of undermining faith in the US democratic system.
“It’s totally obvious, it’s clear for everyone in the world, it seems to me, that for Americans it’s clear that there are problems in the US electoral system,” Putin told Russian state television, according to a Wall Street Journal report.
Biden began receiving congratulatory from world leaders in the days after major networks called the election for the Democratic candidate. The president-elect held calls with the leaders of France, Germany, Ireland, and the UK on November 10 while even China recognised Biden’s election win by November 13.