Last November, Biden won the election and immediately the experts turned their sights and speculation to what he would do regarding a perceived ally of former president Trump. But in reality, America is contemplating gradual sanctions-relief for Iran, is taking aim at China through imposing travel bans and asset freezes on several Chinese officials and has slowly retreated from the issues in the middle east. Additionally, the Pakistan-based Second Eye Solution was sanctioned heavily, they allegedly create and sell fake identities and have helped the IRA (Russian misinformation entity) to hide its identity in order to evade sanctions.
Then on April 15th, America’s Treasury Department (oversees USA sanctions programs) announced sweeping sanctions against Russia. As with the targets of all the Treasury’s measures announced this week, all of their property and other interests in America, or any of their assets held or controlled by “US persons” (which includes American banks) are being frozen.
The stated purposes include, among other things, “undermining the conduct of free and fair elections and democratic institutions” in America and its allies; “engaging in and facilitating malicious cyber activities”; “fostering and using transnational corruption to influence foreign governments”; targeting dissidents and journalists (Alexei Navalny) through “extraterritorial activities”; and, “violating well-established principles of international law, including respect for the territorial integrity of states” (eg, by its takeover of Crimea and fostering secessionists in eastern Ukraine).
The range of measures is, according to Janet Yellen, America’s treasury secretary, aimed at “Russia’s continued and growing malign behaviour”.
The hardest hitting ban is one that stops American financial institutions from participating in the primary market for rouble bonds issued by Russia’s central bank, its finance ministry or its sovereign-wealth fund, or from lending to them. Russia has been reducing its reliance on foreign buyers for its rouble-denominated debt since America imposed sanctions over its annexation of Crimea in 2014.
Mr Biden accuses Russian intelligence agencies and their networks of having interfered in the presidential election of 2020 and, on the same day as Britain and Canada have blamed Russia for the “SolarWinds” cyber intrusion ( it went undetected for months in 2020 and compromised 9 federal agencies and more than 100 Western companies). The use of sanctions to punish espionage is a notable break with the past. In 2015, for instance, Michael Hayden, a former American spy chief, described China’s hacking of a government personnel database as “honourable espionage work”.
The measures relating to election interference, which America says was carried out “at the direction of the leadership of the Russian government”, encompass 16 entities and 16 individuals—and are, said Ms Yellen, “the start of a new US campaign” against Russia’s behavior.
One of the targets of the sanctions is SouthFront, which America says is a Russian-registered website that published false content to give the impression that voter fraud in the 2020 election was widespread. Another, InfoRos, claims to be a news agency but is allegedly run by the GRU. A third, the Strategic Culture Foundation, is an online journal allegedly linked to another intelligence agency registered in Russia and accused of creating false narratives about American officials, while trying to conceal its Russian origins.
Yevgeniy Prigozhin, is alleged to be the money behind one of Russia's troll farm called the Internet Research Agency (IRA). Mr Prigozhin also bankrolling the Wagner Group (mercenaries that serve as a Russian proxy force in Syria, Libya and other battlefields). It would be a very unwise Russian troll-master, however, who owned a condo in Miami or had an account with Citibank.
America also said it would expel ten Russian diplomats in Washington and New York who are suspected of being intelligence officers (previous mass expulsions came in March 2018, when the Trump administration kicked out 60 suspected Russian spies).
Mr Biden knows that America still needs to do business with Russia and has indicated a willingness to talk, but he also intends to flex some muscle.