The Biden administration on Thursday took sweeping actions against Russia, imposing sanctions and declaring a “national emergency” in response to the country’s alleged involvement in the SolarWinds cyberattack and interference in the 2020 presidential election.
In a White House news release, the administration announced the Treasury Department had sanctioned 32 entities and individuals — including government officials and members of intelligence agencies — as well as six Russian technology companies for their involvement in attempting to influence the 2020 election as well as for “other acts of disinformation and interference.”
The Treasury Department also issued a directive prohibiting U.S. financial institutions from participating in the primary market for new debt issued by the Russian Central Bank, its National Wealth Fund, or its Ministry of Finance.
Bloomberg News reported that the directive restricting U.S. investors from buying ruble-denominated Russian government debt has “long been seen as the ‘nuclear option’ in financial markets, where the bonds, known as OFZs, have been a popular investment.”
The outlet added that foreigners presently hold approximately 20% of that debt, worth about $37 billion.
“This directive provides authority for the U.S. government to expand sovereign debt sanctions on Russia as appropriate,” the news release stated.
In addition to the sanctions, the administration also moved to expel 10 Russian diplomats from the country’s diplomatic mission in Washington, D.C.
In a letter sent to Congress, President Biden also announced that he had issued “an Executive Order declaring a national emergency with respect to the unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States posed by specified harmful foreign activities of the Government of the Russian Federation.”
The news comes only days after Biden’s first phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin. It also comes alongside rising tensions in Eastern Europe as Russian forces again amass near the Ukrainian border.
“The President signed this sweeping new authority to confront Russia’s continued and growing malign behavior,” Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen said in a statement. “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.”
As a part of the sweeping actions, the U.S. “formally named” the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service as the perpetrator of the cyberattack on SolarWinds Orion Platform software. That hack was carried out as early as March 2020 when malicious code was snuck into an update for the popular software, which is used by a wide range of large companies and government agencies.
Shortly after the hack was discovered in December, U.S. intelligence officials raised suspicions of Russia’s involvement. Former Homeland Security adviser to President Trump, Tom Bossert, subsequently warned that Russia could have “persistent access” to hacked U.S. government networks for years to come with the power to “destroy or alter data,” as a result of the hack.