Biden calls for dialogue with Russia amid raft of sanctions

President Biden on Thursday said he is not seeking a “cycle of escalation and conflict with Russia” and called for dialogue between Washington and Moscow after his administration unveiled a new raft of sanctions intended to punish Russia for its malign behavior. 

Biden described the new sanctions as “proportionate” measures designed to respond to Russia for the SolarWinds cyberattack and meddling in the 2020 elections, making good on his pledges to hold Moscow accountable for its actions.

“The United States is not looking to kick off a cycle of escalation and conflict with Russia. We want a stable, predictable relationship,” Biden said in brief remarks from the White House. “If Russia continues to interfere with our democracy, I am prepared to take further actions to respond.”

“Now is the time to deescalate. The way forward is through thoughtful dialogue and diplomatic process,” Biden continued. “The U.S. is prepared to continue constructively to move toward that process. My bottom line is this: Where it’s in the interest of the United States to work with Russia, we should, and we will. Where Russia seeks to violate the interests of the United States, we will respond.”

Biden reiterated his desire to hold an in-person summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin later this summer in Europe, something he first raised during a phone call with the Russian leader earlier in the week.

The two sides are discussing the possibility of a meeting, Biden said, and he expressed hope that a summit would produce a “strategic stability dialogue” to allow the two countries to work together on critical issues.

“When I spoke to President Putin, I expressed my belief that personal communication between us personally and directly was to be essential in moving forward to a more effective relationship, and he agreed on that point,” Biden said.

The Kremlin has been non-committal for now on such a summit, saying it would depend on U.S. behavior. 

Biden’s remarks, which lasted less than 10 minutes, appeared to be something of an olive branch for Moscow hours after his administration announced new sanctions on Russia in response to the SolarWinds cyberattack and efforts to interfere in the 2020 election, moves that had been in the making for several weeks. 

Biden officials have consistently said they want to work with Russia on areas of mutual concern, while also not shying away from pressing Russia on its threatening behavior.  

Among the new sanctions, Biden signed an executive order barring U.S. financial institutions from purchasing bonds from Russia’s Central Bank, National Wealth Fund or Ministry of Finance after June 14 and from lending funds to these institutions. The directive leaves open the possibility for the administration to expand the sanctions on Russian sovereign debt.

The administration also sanctioned six Russian technology companies that it says are supporting Russian intelligence operations, along with 32 individuals involved in Russian efforts to influence the 2020 election. The U.S. also expelled 10 personnel from the Russian diplomatic mission in Washington, accusing some of representing Russian intelligence services. 

The Biden administration did not sanction the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia to Germany despite reports it would. Biden said Thursday the pipeline, which has drawn opposition from some U.S. and European leaders over concerns it gives Moscow leverage over Europe’s energy supply, is a “complicated issue” and is something he has opposed.

“But that still is an issue that is in play,” Biden said.

The SolarWinds hack, which was first revealed in December, involved Russian hackers exploiting software produced by IT provider SolarWinds and gaining access to up to 18,000 of the company’s customers, including nine federal agencies. 

U.S. officials previously said they believed Russia to have been behind the hack, which is among the largest in U.S. history. The Biden administration formally blamed the attack on Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service on Thursday. 

The new measures come as Biden administration officials increasingly raise alarm over Russian military buildup along Ukraine’s border. Biden expressed concerns about Russia’s actions in Ukraine during the call earlier this week and reiterated the United States’ “unwavering commitment” to Ukraine. 

Evelyn Farkas, who served as deputy assistant secretary for defense for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia under the Obama administration, said that the sanctions appeared to be an effort by the Biden administration to deter future Russian aggression in Ukraine and elsewhere and change the dynamic of the U.S.-Russia relationship. 

“This is an attempt to deter. It’s not just a reactive,” Farkas said. “It’s very much aimed at cleverly trying to change the dynamic.”

Tags Joe Biden SolarWinds Vladimir Putin
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