National Security

Russia blocks key Biden Cabinet officials from entering in retaliation for sanctions

The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Friday announced that eight top U.S. intelligence officials, including several members of President Biden's Cabinet, were banned from entering Russia in retaliation for recent U.S. sanctions levied on the nation. 

Those banned from entry include Cabinet members Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines and Attorney General Merrick Garland. 

Other Biden administration officials barred beginning Friday were FBI Director Christopher Wray, Domestic Policy Council Director Susan Rice and Federal Bureau of Prisons Director Michael Carvajal. Former CIA Director R. James Woolsey, who served during the Clinton administration, and John Bolton, former President Trump's national security adviser, were also barred from entering Russia. 

The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs noted in announcing the action that the officials were barred in response to the Biden administration's sanctions levied last month as a result of the Russian poisoning and imprisonment of opposition leader Alexey Navalny. 

"Taking into account the unprecedented nature of the complications provoked by Washington in Russian-American relations, it was decided to deviate from the usual practice not to 'highlight' countermeasures publicly undertaken by the Russian side," the ministry said in a statement

The move to ban the current and former officials also comes the day after Biden signed an executive order levying further sanctions on Russia for its involvement in the SolarWinds hack, which compromised at least nine federal agencies, and for interfering in U.S. elections.

Haines, Mayorkas and Wray are among the key federal leaders involved in responding to the SolarWinds hack, with the FBI, the National Security Agency, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Department of Homeland Security's cybersecurity agency coordinating on investigating the incident. 

As part of the executive order, the Biden administration expelled 10 personnel from the Russian diplomatic mission in Washington, D.C., sanctioned six Russian technology companies for providing support to Russian intelligence operations, and sanctioned 32 individuals for alleged election interference operations. 

Additionally, the order requires the U.S. Treasury Department to block 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.

Bolton on Friday applauded his inclusion on the list of officials banned from entering Russia.

"I have been named on a list of individuals barred from Russia in retaliation for sanctions," Bolton tweeted. "Russia deserves the strongest possible condemnation for their attempts to undermine our way of life. I am proud to be recognized as a voice for American interests."

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov announced earlier on Friday that the country intended to sanction eight top U.S. officials, also noting that Russia would request that 10 senior U.S. diplomats leave the country. 

Lavrov said during a press conference that Russia could take "painful measures" against American businesses in the future, but was not currently taking those steps. 

The sanctions were publicly announced after Biden spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier this week, during which they discussed the upcoming U.S. actions.

Biden said in a speech Thursday that the new sanctions in relation to the SolarWinds hack and election interference were meant to be "proportionate," and that he would take further steps if Russia continued its interference activities. 

"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. "If Russia continues to interfere with our democracy, I am prepared to take further actions to respond."