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15 Apr, 2021 12:21

US imposes new sanctions against Russia, expels ten diplomats & targets national debt in move Moscow may view as major escalation

US imposes new sanctions against Russia, expels ten diplomats & targets national debt in move Moscow may view as major escalation

US President Joe Biden signed a decree on Thursday imposing a new round of sanctions on Russia. They target more than 30 individuals and organizations. The White House also moved to expel nearly a dozen of Moscow’s diplomats.

The move, which the White House says is in response to alleged interference by Moscow in the 2020 US presidential election, will see American companies banned from directly buying shares in Russia’s national debt. The Kremlin has consistently denied that it made any attempt to meddle in the contest, in which Biden defeated former President Donald Trump. Sanctions have also been linked to the colossal SolarWinds cyber-espionage case, which Washington claims Russia was behind.

Earlier this month, the country’s Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Pankin warned that the US may resort to attacking bonds as part of “a deliberate calculation to create a toxic atmosphere around Russian securities in order to reduce their investment potential.” He added that Moscow was already working to create a battle plan to limit the effect such sanctions would have on the economy.

White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan defended the move later on Thursday, saying that the package of sanctions comprised “proportionate measures to defend American interests in response to harmful Russia actions including cyber intrusions and election interference.”

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At the same time, ten of Moscow’s diplomatic representatives in the US have been declared persona non grata and ordered to leave the country. Back in Moscow, before the decision was announced, Alexey Chepa, the deputy chairman of the Russian parliament’s international affairs committee, warned that such a move would lead to a tit-for-tat expulsion from Moscow. “If Russian envoys are expelled,” the MP said, “naturally there will have to be a mirror-image response.”

The announcement came just hours after the Kremlin said that talk of sanctions would hinder the prospects of better bilateral relations. Russian President Vladimir Putin had been invited to participate in a bilateral summit by Biden “in the coming weeks,” but his press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, indicated that it won't be happening in the near future.”

“The fact that the sanctions are probably being discussed will in no way help the likelihood of such a meeting taking place – that can be stated unambiguously,” he added.

In March, Washington announced it had imposed sanctions on a number of Russian officials that it claimed were behind the jailing of Western-backed opposition figure Alexey Navalny, as well as for alleged  “human rights” abuses during the policing of subsequent protests. A small number of companies and one research institution that US officials intimated were involved in a shadowy chemical weapons program were also targeted.

The Kremlin denies that any such weapons are under development, and insists that Navalny’s arrest was purely an internal matter and a consequence of domestic laws.

The move to restrict purchases of Russian sovereign debt, however, is likely to be viewed as a more significant escalation. Likewise, the expulsion of personnel from Russia’s Washington embassy comes after Moscow recalled its ambassador, Anatoly Antonov, for crisis talks over relations with the country. The diplomat returned home at the same time as a furious row erupted following an interview in which Biden was asked whether he believed Putin was “killer,” and replied, “Mmm hmm, I do.”

The Russian foreign ministry had previously said Antonov would not be returned to his post, and full diplomatic relations would not be restored, until the US is “able to demonstrate a desire to at least relatively stabilize our relationship and they do something visible and noticeable in this regard.”

In the wake of the announcement that Washington would impose new sanctions on Thursday, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told reporters that the US ambassador in Moscow, John Sullivan, had been summoned for talks. “We will share with you an update on the results of this conversation, which will be difficult for the American side,” she said.

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