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Biden ‘prepared to take further actions’ if Russia continues to back interference efforts

Police officers wearing protective face masks walk past the Spasskaya Tower of the Kremlin in Moscow on March 13, 2021 (AFP via Getty Images)

With a series of sanctions and the expulsion of Russian diplomats from the US, Joe Biden has sought an end to a “cycle of escalation and conflict” with Russia in the wake of sweeping hacking operations and intelligence findings that revealed Kremlin-backed efforts to undermine American elections.

In remarks from the White House on Thursday, Mr Biden said: “We cannot allow a foreign power to interfere in our democratic process.”

The sanctions imposed through the Treasury Department target 32 entities and individuals “carrying out Russian government-directed attempts to influence the 2020 US presidential election” and other disinformation efforts, according to the White House.

Ten diplomats were also removed from the Russian Embassy in Washington DC.

The US has formally blamed the Kremlin for the SolarWinds cyberattack that compromised 100 businesses and nine federal agencies through an operation allegedly helmed by a Russian intelligence agency that US intelligence officials found was also responsible for extensive “influence” campaigns during the 2016 and 2020 elections.

During a phone conversation between Mr Biden and Russian president Vladimir Putin on Tuesday, the US president said “I was clear … that we could have gone further.

“But I chose to be proportionate,” he said. “The United States is not looking to kick off a cycle of escalation and conflict with Russia. We want a stable, predictable relationship.”

He added: “If Russia continues to interfere with our democracy, I’m prepared to take further actions to respond. It is my responsibility as president of the United States to do so. Our long history of competition, our two countries have been able to find ways to manage tensions and keep them from escalating out of control.”

Asked whether Mr Putin suggested that Russian authorities would change their behaviour in response, the president reiterated that he has repeatedly said to Mr Putin that he “would respond in kind” if the US discovered additional interference efforts.

“I hope that we can work out a modus vivendi,” he said.

A recent report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence assessed that Russian agents sought to “denigrate” Mr Biden through an expansive social media and online influence campaign similar to the operation from 2016 that laundered anti-Biden narratives through US officials and media.

The report said that Kremlin-backed figures associated with former president Donald Trump’s campaign “met with and provided materials” to Trump officials to pursue formal investigations into then-candidate Biden, hired a firm to petition US officials, and “attempted to make contact with several senior US officials” and established media figures during the lead up to the 2020 election.

The Treasury Department on Thursday also accused a Russian intelligence official, Konstantin Kilimnik, of providing Russian Intelligence Services “with sensitive information on polling and campaign strategy” for Mr Trump in 2016, connecting to findings from Robert Mueller’s investigation and congressional investigations that alleged Mr Kilimnik was fed information by former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort.

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