Russia Warns of 'Resolute Retaliation' After U.S. Announces Sanctions, Diplomat Expulsions

The Biden administration announced Thursday the expulsion of 10 Russian diplomats and sanctions against Russian people and companies to hold the Kremlin accountable for interfering in the 2020 presidential election, the hacking of federal agencies, and Russia's "ongoing occupations and repression" in Crimea.

The White House said while it wants a stable and predictable relationship with Russian, it will "defend our national interests and impose costs for Russian Government actions that seek to harm us."

The sanctions target Moscow's ability to borrow money by prohibiting U.S. financial institutions from buying Russian bonds directly from Russian institutions.

"The President signed this sweeping new authority to confront Russia's continued and growing malign behavior," said Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen in a press release Thursday.

"Treasury is leveraging this new authority to impose costs on the Russian government for its unacceptable conduct, including by limiting Russia's ability to finance its activities and by targeting Russia's malicious and disruptive cyber capabilities."

After the sanctions were announced, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova swiftly denounced the actions.

"Such aggressive behavior will undoubtedly trigger a resolute retaliation," Zakharova said. "Washington should realize that it will have to pay a price for the degradation of the bilateral ties," Zakharova said, adding that "the responsibility for that will fully lie with the United States."

She said the ministry has summoned the U.S. ambassador for a "hard conversation," but wouldn't immediately say what action Russia will take.

The widely anticipated sanctions come amid a buildup of the Russian military on the border of Ukraine and Crimea, the peninsula that Moscow annexed in 2014.

Biden Russia Sanctions Putin
U.S. President Joe Biden announced Thursday that the U.S. will issue serval sanctions on Russia as punishment for election interference and cyber attacks. In the photo, peace activists wearing masks of Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) and Biden pose with mock nuclear missiles in front of Berlin's landmark Brandenburg Gate on January 29, 2021, in an action to call for more progress in nuclear disarmament. JOHN MACDOUGALL/Getty Images

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

The sanctions, foreshadowed for weeks by the administration, represent the first retaliatory measures announced against the Kremlin for the hack, familiarly known as the SolarWinds breach. In that intrusion, Russian hackers are believed to have infected widely used software with malicious code, enabling them to access the networks of at least nine agencies in what U.S. officials believe was an intelligence-gathering operation aimed at mining government secrets.

Besides that hack, U.S. officials last month alleged that Russian President Vladimir Putin authorized influence operations to help Donald Trump in his unsuccessful bid for re-election as president, though there's no evidence Russia or anyone else changed votes or manipulated the outcome.

The measures announced Thursday include sanctions on six Russian companies that support the country's cyber activities, in addition to sanctions on 32 individuals and entities accused of attempting to interfere in last year's presidential election, including by spreading disinformation. The U.S. also sanctioned eight people and entities tied to Russia's occupation of Crimea.

The 10 diplomats being expelled include representatives of Russian intelligence services, the Biden administration said.

Other measures are expected as well, though the administration is not likely to announce them. Officials have been advising that their response to Russia would be in ways both seen and unseen.

"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," Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.

But, he added, "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 U.S. interests."

The White House also said Biden was using diplomatic, military and intelligence channels to respond to reports that Russia encouraged the Taliban to attack U.S. and allied troops in Afghanistan based on the "best assessments" of the intelligence community.

Reports of alleged "bounties" surfaced last year, with the Trump administration coming under fire for not raising the issue directly with Russia. The White House did not publicly confirm the reports.

"The safety and well-being of U.S. military personnel, and that of our allies and partners, is an absolute priority of the United States," the White House said Thursday.

It remained unclear whether the U.S. actions would actually result in changed behavior, especially since past measures by the U.S. have failed to bring an end to Russian hacking. The Obama administration expelled diplomats from the U.S. in 2016 in response to interference in that year's presidential election. And though Trump was often reluctant to criticize Putin, his administration also expelled diplomats in 2018 for Russia's alleged poisoning of an ex-intelligence officer in Britain.

U.S. officials are still grappling with the effects of the SolarWinds intrusion, which affected agencies including the Treasury, Justice, Energy and Homeland Security departments, and are still assessing what information may have been stolen. The breach exposed vulnerabilities in the supply chain as well as weaknesses in the federal government's own cyber defenses.

The actions would represent the second major round of sanctions imposed by the Biden administration against Russia. Last month, the U.S. sanctioned seven mid-level and senior Russian officials, along with more than a dozen government entities, over a nearly fatal nerve-agent attack on opposition leader Alexei Navalny and his subsequent jailing.