WASHINGTON (AP) – The Biden administration is set to impose sanctions in response to a Russian hacking campaign that has disrupted key federal agencies, including its ability to interfere in elections, a senior administration official said Wednesday night.
The sanctions imposed by the administration for weeks were the first retaliatory action against the Kremlin for last year’s hacking, known as the SolarWinds breach. In the intrusion, Russian hackers are believed to have infected widely used software with malicious passwords, allowing them to gain access to the networks of at least nine agencies, which US officials say is a spy operation to uncover government secrets.
In addition, US officials last month claimed that Russian President Vladimir Putin had allowed influential people to assist Donald Trump in his failed re-election bid, although there was no evidence that Russia or anyone else had changed votes or manipulated the results.
The events will be announced on Thursday, according to an official who was not authorized to discuss the issue on condition of anonymity, told The Associated Press.
It was not immediately clear if there were any other actions that could be planned. Officials have previously said they expect to take action, both visible and unseen.
The sanctions, presumably intended to send a clear response to Russia in order to prevent such actions in the future, come amid already tense relations between the United States and Russia.
President Joe Biden told Putin this week that in their second call for “escalation of tensions” following Russia’s military build-up on Ukraine’s border with Ukraine, the United States would “work hard to defend its national interests” in interfering in Russia’s election-election intervention.
In a televised interview last month, he answered “I do” when he thought Putin was a “murderer.” He said the days of Putin’s “turning over” in the United States were over. Putin later recalled his ambassador to the United States, citing US history of slavery, Native American slaughter, and the Japanese atomic bombing of World War II.
It remains unclear whether US actions will really lead to a change in behavior, especially since past US actions have failed to end Russian hacking. The Obama administration ousted diplomats from the United States in 2016 in response to interference in that year’s presidential election. And while Trump often did not want to criticize Putin, his administration hired diplomats in 2018 to poison a former Russian intelligence officer in Britain.
U.S. officials are still battling the SolarWinds intrusion that has affected departments, including the Treasury, Justice, Energy and Homeland Security, and are still assessing what information could be stolen. The breach exposed vulnerabilities in the supply chain, as well as weaknesses in cyber defense by the federal government.
The actions represent the second major round of sanctions imposed on Russia by the Biden administration. Last month, the United States imposed sanctions on seven Russian high-ranking officials, including more than a dozen government officials, for attacking opposition leader Alexei Navalny, a near-deadly nerve agent, and imprisoning him.