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Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort

Photo by vpickering is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

After four long years of the former U.S. guy being a lapdog to Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Kremlin's bill is finally coming due for its years-long cyber espionage campaign against the United States.

The Biden administration said Thursday it was imposing a new round of sanctions to constrict the Russian economy along with sanctioning six Russian companies that aid Russian Intelligence services, according to The Washington Post. In addition, the administration is expelling ten Russian intelligence officers posing as diplomats in the U.S.

Alongside the punitive actions, the Biden administration formalized a series of previously reported accusations about Moscow:

  • It officially blamed the Russian intelligence services for the extensive SolarWinds cyber hack that compromised thousands of government agencies and private sector entities alike. "The Russian Intelligence Services — specifically the Federal Security Service (FSB), Russia's Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU), and the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) — have executed some of the most dangerous and disruptive cyber attacks in recent history, including the SolarWinds cyber attack," according to sanctions outlined on the Treasury Department website.
  • It charged that the FSB (the Russian intelligence service) was directly involved in the August 2020 chemical poisoning of political Putin foe Aleksey Navalny; and further said the GRU (the Russian military intelligence service) "materially contributed to the possession, transportation, and use of Novichok" in the March 2018 poisoning of former Russian military officer Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the U.K.
  • Finally, for the very first time, the U.S. government connected the dots between sensitive polling from the Trump campaign being passed from Russian agent Konstantin Kilimnik to Russian intelligence agencies. You'll recall, this was the polling Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort delivered to Kilimnik in an infamous cigar bar meeting. But now, the U.S. government is confirming that Kilimnik then delivered that information to Kremlin spy agencies. "During the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign, Kilimnik provided the Russian Intelligence Services with sensitive information on polling and campaign strategy," reads a statement on the Treasury site. "Additionally, Kilimnik sought to promote the narrative that Ukraine, not Russia, had interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election."

What the Biden administration did not confirm was the allegation that Russia had placed bounties on the heads of U.S. soldiers serving in Afghanistan in 2019, an intelligence estimate in which U.S. agencies had expressed low to moderate confidence. But the administration also didn't entirely dismiss the allegation; it simply didn't tie the forthcoming sanctions to it.

"But we do believe that this information puts the burden on the Russian government to explain its action and takes steps to address this disturbing pattern of behavior," the senior administration official said. "We expressed those concerns directly to the government of Russia."

According to the Post, "the package includes sanctions on all debt Russia issues after June 14, barring U.S. financial institutions from buying government bonds directly from the Russian Central Bank, Russian National Wealth Fund and the Ministry of Finance." The intended effect is to hinder Moscow's ability to raise money in global capital markets.

President Biden is walking a line with Moscow, trying to maintain open communication channels with the Kremlin while also drawing the line at its aggressive attacks on U.S. democracy and national interests.

"Our view is that no single action that we will take or could take in and of itself could directly alter Russia's malign behavior," Principal Deputy National Security Adviser Jonathan Finer said. "But this is going to be a process that is going to take place over time, and it will involve a mix of significant pressure and finding ways to work together."

Packaging the punitive measures together is designed to allow the administration to move from a reactionary posture to a more proactive one.

"It's good to clearly message our priorities to Russia," Andrea Kendall-Taylor, a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, told the Post. "By packaging a response to several things at once, the administration can get off the back foot and move on its agenda. What we don't want is to always be in response mode to Russia."

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Jeff Danziger lives in New York City. He is represented by CWS Syndicate and the Washington Post Writers Group. He is the recipient of the Herblock Prize and the Thomas Nast (Landau) Prize. He served in the US Army in Vietnam and was awarded the Bronze Star and the Air Medal. He has published eleven books of cartoons and one novel. Visit him at DanzigerCartoons.

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Photo by The White House

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