Tensions between the U.S. and Russia escalated after Joe Biden declared a national emergency over Russian threat. He expelled 10 diplomatic officials and announced sanctions against Vladimir Putin officials.
President Joe Biden signed an executive order that will allow Russia to be punished again, with “strategic and economic consequences if it continues or escalates oits destabilizing international actions,” the White House warned in a statement.
Biden accusations in the midst of “national emergency”
The White House formally accused Russia’s Foreign Espionage Service (SVR) of having “perpetrated” the massive cyberattack that allegedly began in 2019 and penetrated U.S. government systems and major companies through a program by the company SolarWinds.
“Today, we announced actions to hold the Russian Government to account for the SolarWinds intrusion, reports of bounties on U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, and attempts to interfere in the 2020 U.S. election,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.
In a letter to Congress, the White House reported that Russia’s activities “constitute an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States.”
According to the Biden administration, Russia aimed to “undermine the conduct of free and fair democratic elections and democratic institutions in the United States and its allies and partners,” engaged in “malicious cyber-enabled activities,” and claims it “violated international law.”
In his statement Blinken cited not only the SolarWinds attack that compromised many federal government agencies, but also the poisoning of Putin’s main political rival, Alexei Navalny.
In total, Washington sanctioned on Thursday 6 Russian companies for cyber espionage activities, 32 Russian organizations and individuals for election interference; and 8 individuals and entities for Russia’s occupation of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea.
Following the U.S. government’s decisions, according to the Russian state communications agency TASS, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov condemned the application of sanctions and called them “illegal.”
“We condemn any pursuit of sanctions, we consider them illegal. In any case, the principle of reciprocity in this matter is valid; reciprocity in a way that best serves our interests,,” he said.
For her part, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told a news conference that Russia summoned the U.S. ambassador for a “tough talk,” but did not immediately detail Russia’s specific retaliatory actions.
The Biden administration’s stance comes as tensions have escalated. It should be recalled that Biden called Putin a murderer in his first interview after taking office.
Russian Bear bombers subsequently went into action, forcing NATO to launch 10 aircraft to intercept Russian fighter aircraft flying over the North Atlantic Ocean earlier this month.
What Russian cyber-attack does Biden refer to?
In December, it became known that Russian hackers had hacked computer systems in the United States, compromising the security of federal agencies and the “critical infrastructure” of state bodies.
At the time Joe Biden announced that he would take action against those responsible. “We need to disrupt and deter our adversaries from undertaking major cyberattacks in the first place,” he said.
Reuters reported that Russian-backed hackers infiltrated the internal email systems of the U.S. Treasury Department and the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration, spying on communications for months.
According to the disclosed information, the hackers were able to infiltrate the government agencies’ systems and FireEye, a cybersecurity firm, through a malicious software update introduced into a product from SolarWinds Inc, a U.S. network management company.
FireEye did not identify Russia as the suspect, but said the hackers were highly sophisticated, prioritized stealth, patiently performed reconnaissance on their victims and used hard-to-attribute cyber tools.
FireEye CEO Kevin Mandia explained that the main objective of these attacks would be to steal information from the company’s government clients.