Vladimir Putin is raising the threat level in Ukraine by moving tens of thousands of troops to the border, threatening war. He’s also ignoring the pleas of the international community to release his political foe, Alexey Navalny, from prison. Navalny is reportedly on a hunger strike, although the Kremlin announced they would force-feed the dissident if necessary.
So Joe Biden chose this moment in history to punish Putin for his election interference in 2015-16 as well as the state-sponsored hacks of everything from government personnel files to national security secrets.
Russia was already under severe economic sanctions for the annexation of Crimea in 2014. But Biden’s new sanctions will definitely get the Russian president’s attention.
Using a new executive order, the measure will expand the existing prohibitions on U.S. banks trading in Russian government debt, two of the people said. Previous prohibitions targeting portions of Russian sovereign debt shook Russia’s markets and added to its economic woes.
That order prohibits U.S. financial institutions from buying new bonds directly from Russia’s central bank, finance ministry and the country’s massive sovereign-wealth fund after June 14.
Among other measures, 10 Russian diplomats will be expelled, including some due to allegations that Russia offered to pay bounties to militants in Afghanistan to kill U.S. military service members, the people said. Sanctions will be imposed for Russia’s cyber intrusions, election meddling and occupation of Crimea.
Significantly, the U.S. has named the main culprit in the notorious SolarWinds hack that exposed an enormous amount of corporate data. They are formally accusing the Russian foreign intelligence service, the SVR, of carrying out the attack.
The sanctions will also target specific individuals and companies.
Thursday’s actions will also designate a half dozen Russian companies as working to support Russia’s cyber operations, and designate more than 30 individuals and entities for interfering in U.S. elections, people familiar with the measures said.
The U.S., in tandem with the U.K., Australia, Canada and the European Union, will also sanction eight individuals and entities associated with the occupation of Crimea, one added.
Biden’s decision to expel 10 Russian diplomats is an open invitation to Putin to expel some Americans. Putin also has a nasty habit of finding ways to arrest Americans who aren’t protected by diplomatic immunity when he is especially displeased with Washington. This sort of hostage-taking is part of Putin’s charm — always the swashbuckling pirate.
Putin’s ego will be damaged by these sanctions more than the Russian economy. But how far will he go in retaliation? From Putin’s point of view, he sees a weak, divided America, slowly recovering from the pandemic and preoccupied with divisive domestic concerns like race and class.
Whatever Putin’s short-term plans for Ukraine and other world hotspots, he won’t be deterred. He will continue to make mischief and attempt to undermine U.S. interests regardless of how many diplomats are forced to leave Washington. The real challenge will be to deter his long-term plans and prevent them from bearing fruit.