Russia | Biden punishes Moscow and expels ten Russian diplomats

(Washington) After the extended counter-attack: The US government, Joe Biden, announced, Thursday, a series of harsh financial sanctions against Russia and the expulsion of ten Russian diplomats, which could complicate the proposal of his summit with Vladimir Putin.




Francesco Fontimage with Maxim Popov in Moscow
France Media

Since arriving at the White House, the new president of the United States has indicated that he has been developing his response to a series of actions blamed on Moscow, including a massive cyberattack and interference in the US elections in November.

He went so far as to classify Vladimir Putin as a “murderer,” and promised Joe Biden to be more assertive than his predecessor, Donald Trump, accused on all sides of complacency toward the Kremlin master.

Reprisals subsided on Thursday.

46e The President of American History, who is scheduled to speak on the matter at 4.30pm, signed a decree followed by immediate sanctions, which would also allow Russia to be punished again “if it continues or encourages escalation of its actions to destabilize international stability,” the White House warned in a statement.

The US Treasury Department has banned US banks from directly purchasing debt issued by Russia after June 14th.

It also imposed sanctions on six Russian technology companies accused of supporting intelligence piracy activities in Moscow.

It is a response to the massive 2020 cyber attack, now formally blamed on Russia, which used SolarWinds, an American software publisher whose product had been compromised to introduce a security hole among its users, including several US federal agencies.

And the Russian foreign intelligence services, in which Washington was directly involved, responded: “Reading these delusions is of little importance.”

Western “support”

A senior US official warned that part of the retaliatory operations would remain “secret”, referring to the possibility of a counter-attack by computer.

In addition, the Treasury is imposing sanctions on 32 entities and individuals accused of trying, on behalf of the Russian government, to “influence the 2020 presidential elections in the United States,” according to the White House.

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The US government also imposes sanctions on eight persons and entities linked to the “occupation” of Crimea, “in partnership” with the European Union, the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada.

NATO, the European Union and London offered their support for the US sanctions, but without announcing any new measures immediately.

For its part, the US State Department expelled ten Russian diplomats in Washington, some of whom were accused of being members of Moscow’s intelligence services.

All these sanctions also aim to hold the Russian authorities “responsible” after accusations that Russia granted the Taliban to attack American soldiers in Afghanistan. But a senior US official made it clear that the CIA could only confirm the validity of these allegations with a “low to medium” degree of confidence.

These sanctions come in addition to a first series of punitive measures announced last March in response to the poisoning of opponent Alexei Navalny.

The Russian answer is “inevitable”

It was one of the most difficult attacks against Russia since many diplomats were expelled at the end of Barack Obama’s term.

And the answer was not long ago.

“Such aggressive behavior will be strongly rejected.” Russian diplomat’s spokeswoman Maria Zakharova warned, “The response to sanctions will be inevitable.” “The United States is not ready to accept the objective reality of a multipolar world that excludes American hegemony and relies on sanctions pressure and interference in our internal affairs.”

Moscow also said that it had summoned the US ambassador, John Sullivan, for a “difficult conversation,” but the latter confirmed that he was received at his request, during a “professional and respectful” meeting.

Russia also warned that these sanctions “will not favor” the holding of the Biden-Putin summit, when relations are at their lowest levels between the two geopolitical rivals.

The offer of the first meeting in a “third country” was made by the new democratic president during a telephone conversation this week with his Russian counterpart, which was also marked by a warning after the massive deployment of Russian forces in the United States, the Ukrainian border.

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“We believe that in the coming months it will be necessary for the two leaders to meet” to find a stable and effective way forward to stop any escalation before it escalates, the senior US official confirmed on Thursday.

The US political class generally welcomed the sanctions.

Democratic Senator Bob Menendez praised this “assertive approach” “which turns the page of four years during which Donald Trump fell into Putin’s hands.”

The most dramatic debt measure announced Thursday is expected to be of low impact, as Russia has only limited debt and reserves of more than $ 180 billion, backed by its hydrocarbon exports. However, it may be painful for the ruble which fell on Thursday.

“It is a storm in a glass of water. For more than ten years, the Russian monetary authorities’ policy aims to keep the budget deficit at a low level, stressing that Moscow is ready for this” for a “long period”, economist Sergei Khostanov told AFP.

What we know about the SolarWinds hack behind US sanctions against Moscow

A large-scale cyberattack was exposed in late 2020 against U.S. government organizations and companies, prompting the Biden administration, which accuses Russia of responsibility, to announce on Thursday financial sanctions against Moscow and expel ten Russian diplomats.

Back to this sophisticated attack and its consequences for US cybersecurity, four months after the facts were revealed.

What are SolarWinds?

Founded in the late 1990s, Texas-based SolarWinds is listed on Wall Street and is a publisher of computer management software and remote monitoring tools for professionals.

The company, whose products are used in particular by federal agencies and US companies, has more than 300,000 customers worldwide.

The Orion platform, which enjoys great commercial success and is used to manage and monitor computer networks, is at the heart of the attack that was revealed last December.

what happened ?

Hackers managed to make SolarWinds issue tough updates to Orion that penetrated victims’ networks, letting data seep in like email.

SolarWinds’ supply chain has been targeted with a tailgate, a hidden feature by which hackers can successfully install malware and complete their spying operations.

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The attack began in March 2020 and lasted for several months before it was discovered in December by computer security group FireEye, which has itself been a victim of the cyberattacks.

Who are the authors?

Washington accuses Russia of masterminding this cyber attack, explicitly citing the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR).

“The scale and scale of this intrusion, along with Russia’s record of dangerous and disruptive cyber attacks, makes it a national security issue,” the US Treasury Department said in a statement on Thursday.

“SVR has put the technology supply chain at risk globally by allowing malware to be installed on the devices of tens of thousands of SolarWinds customers,” the ministry added.

In a hearing organized by the US Senate Intelligence Committee in February, Microsoft Chairman Brad Smith claimed that at least 1,000 engineers were involved in the process, which it described as “the most complex attack we have ever seen. We have seen it so far.”

Before experts and the Biden administration clearly determined that Russia was responsible for the attack, former US President Donald Trump blamed China without providing concrete evidence.

For its part, Moscow denies any involvement.

What are the consequences?

The exact scope of hacking remains unknown to this day due to its complexity and the secrecy that some target organizations require.

The Treasury says the attack targeted “the financial sector, critical infrastructure, government networks, and many” other victims.

For its part, SolarWinds said that as many as 18,000 customers and more than 100 US companies have been affected. The company’s clients include many government agencies and companies that are among the top 500 US companies by revenue.

Cybersecurity and cybersecurity emerged as critical issues for the Biden administration as another massive attack rocked Microsoft last month.

A group of Chinese-backed hackers exploited vulnerabilities in the Exchange Server business email service to infiltrate tens of thousands of US organizations, including companies, cities and communities.

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