US President Joe Biden has rolled out a new round of sanctions against Russia after weeks of deliberation and diplomatic efforts by Washington to co-ordinate action against the Kremlin with European allies.
According to US authorities, sanctions have been approved in response to alleged Russian interference in last year's US elections, cyber-hacking in US, the build-up of a military presence near the Ukraine border and other “malign” actions.
The measures blacklist over 30 Russian companies and individuals of Russian, Ukrainian and other citizenship who attempted to influence elections. The measures also expel 10 Russian diplomats from the country and prohibit US banks from investing in the Russian sovereign debt market.
The scale of the sanctions is unprecedented since 2014 when the US and Europe targeted the Russian state-controlled oil sector and its offshore projects in response to the Kremlin's annexation of the Crimea Peninsula in Ukraine and sponsorship of separatists in the eastern part of the country.
Expanding earlier restrictions on dealing with Russia and its state-controlled companies, Biden has barred US financial institutions from dealing directly in the market of rouble-denominated Russian sovereign bonds from 14 June.
However, the US has not cut Russian banks from using international messaging network SWIFT, a move that was repeatedly discussed and feared in Moscow as it could have disrupted foreign trade and temporarily cut off many Russian companies — including its oil and gas producers — from export revenues and foreign services and supplies.
In concert with members of the European Union and the UK, Australia and Canada, the US Treasury has also sanctioned five individuals and three companies that are understood to be associated with Russia’s ongoing occupation and repression of dissenters in Crimea.
However, the US has refrained from measures against those Russian security officials who have been implicated in the attempted poisoning of President Vladimir Putin’s most vociferous critic, main opposition leader Alexei Navalny, and his imprisonment following his return to the country earlier this year.
Additionally, no new Russian businessmen who are close to Putin and the Kremlin are on the list of sanctioned individuals despite persistent calls from Russian opposition leaders to blacklist those billionaires who continue to support the Kremlin’s crackdown on its critics and the freedom of speech.
Russia's Foreign Ministry on Thursday summoned the US Ambassador to the country, John Sullivan, as news on upcoming sanctions broke, warning him that the Kremlin would respond.
Foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Thursday afternoon that Sullivan would face a “difficult conversation”.
“Such aggressive behavior, without question, will receive a decisive push back, a response to the sanctions is unavoidable,” she said.
“In Washington, they must realise that it's necessary to pay for the degradation of bilateral relations. Responsibility for what is happening lies entirely on the US."
However, an advisory from the US Federal Bureau of Intelligence, the Department of Homeland Security and National Security Agency said that the US government, “critical infrastructure and allied networks are consistently scanned, targeted and exploited by Russian state-sponsored cyber actors”.