The United States is set to hit Russia with fresh sanctions for interference in the 2020 presidential election, a sweeping cyberattack against American government and corporate networks and other activities.
The sanctions are expected to be announced on Thursday and include expelling Russian diplomats from the U.S. and blacklisting more than 20 Russian entities, according to one U.S. official and a second source familiar with the matter.
The sanctions will come a month after President Joe Biden publicly promised retaliation against Russian President Vladimir Putin for a range of malicious activities that Washington blames on Moscow.
Biden has characterized Putin as a “killer” and said he would “pay the price” for these actions. Russia denies all of these charges, saying the intelligence community’s documentation of its 2020 election interference consisted of “baseless accusations.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov suggested Moscow would respond in kind to any “illegal” sanctions imposed by the U.S.
“We condemn any intentions to impose sanctions, consider them illegal, and in any case the principle of reciprocity operates in this area,” he said Thursday according to Reuters. Russia did not want relations with Washington to be a case of “one step forward and two steps back,” he added.
Last month a declassified intelligence document said that Putin authorized influence operations to denigrate Biden during the 2020 presidential campaign, support then-President Donald Trump and undermine faith in American democracy.
U.S. officials also blame Russian intelligence services for the SolarWinds cyberattack last year, a widespread breach that tore into U.S. government agencies and dozens of corporations.
Microsoft President Brad Smith described it as “the largest and most sophisticated attack the world has ever seen.”
In January, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the Biden administration had asked intelligence services for a full assessment of the hack and the 2020 election interference, as well as Russia’s use of “chemical weapons against opposition leader Alexei Navalny, and the alleged bounties on U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan.”
The Biden admin unveiled its first round of sanctions on Moscow for the poisoning and detention of Navalny early last month, in action coordinated with the European Union.
The sanctions expected Thursday come at a time of particular tension after Russia started amassing forces along the border with Ukraine. The Kremlin said the forces are there for a training mission, but few outside the country buy that, and the U.S. and its European allies have called on Russia to withdraw.
In a call with Putin on Tuesday, Biden proposed the two leaders meet at a summit to tackle issues including the situation around Ukraine.
Analysts say a Russian military offensive is not impossible, but many believe it’s more likely an attempt to intimidate Ukraine and a warning to the U.S. and its other Western backers not to get involved in an area it considers its backyard.
Kristen Welker, Andrea Mitchell and Abigail Williams reported from Washington, and Alex Smith reported from London.