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Biden Administration Confirms Plans To Hit Russia With Sanctions

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The Biden administration is announcing sanctions today on Russia. The White House executive order will expel 10 Russian diplomats from the United States. It also targets six Russian companies that the U.S. accuses of conducting a cyber campaign to interfere with elections in this country in recent years. NPR's Jackie Northam is covering this story. Jackie, good morning.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Tell us more about the sanctions here.

NORTHAM: Well, there's a whole raft of sanctions and other measures, and they're in retaliation for what the administration calls aggressive and harmful activities by Russia. There are more than 30 people and entities, businesses, including technology companies, that are slapped with sanctions for disinformation and also attempts to influence the 2020 U.S. presidential election, which the U.S. - pardon me - which the Biden administration says was done at the direction of the leadership of the Russian government. There are also sanctions against several other people and businesses related to Russia's occupation of the Crimea part of Ukraine and its human rights abuses there. But, you know, there's more than just sanctions. The administration says it blames Russian foreign intelligence service for the SolarWinds hack. And if you remember, this is a massive cyber breach discovered late last year that hit an untold number of U.S. public and private businesses. And it's huge. And U.S. intelligence agencies found it was aimed at mining government secrets here. Russia, by the way, has denied any involvement with that. And then, as you mentioned, the Biden administration is going to expel 10 personnel from the Russian diplomatic mission actually here in Washington. And that includes members of the intelligence service. So there's a lot of activity unfolding today against Russia.

INSKEEP: Really interesting timing of course because until a few months ago, we had a president who was remarkably deferential to Russian President Vladimir Putin again and again and again for years, so much so that it disturbed Republicans in Congress who passed sanctions against Russia. The president then resisted more steps. But now this administration acts.

NORTHAM: Right. As you say, you know, former President Donald Trump had a strong relationship with Putin. Now Biden is president and trying to reset the relationship. You know, Steve, these sanctions have been expected. There's a lot of unhappiness in the Biden administration over Russia's activities in that. And, you know, the sanctions, the expulsions, everything, are likely intended to send a message to Moscow that the U.S. just won't put up with Russian meddling or creating security threats. And in fact, national security adviser Jake Sullivan told CNN this morning that President Biden's goal is to provide significant, incredible response but not escalate the situation. Let's have a listen to that.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JAKE SULLIVAN: He believes that the United States and Russia can have a stable and predictable relationship, that there are areas where we can work together, like arms control, and that the U.S. and Russia should sit down together at the leaders level in a summit between President Biden and President Putin to discuss all of the issues facing our relationship.

INSKEEP: Oh, well, that's interesting, Jackie, noting that of course the U.S. is imposing these sanctions but also preparing for a meeting.

NORTHAM: Right. I mean, it's this fine balancing act. Actually, President Biden phoned Putin earlier this week suggesting that the two men meet in person in a third country to talk about things that they agree on. Now Putin did not say whether he'd accept that offer. And it's hard to see if that'll happen now. Already today, Russia's foreign ministry said that even though Biden says he wants to normalize relations, Washington's actions today suggest just the opposite.

INSKEEP: NPR's Jackie Northam, thanks for the update.

NORTHAM: Thank you, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.