MOSCOW / WASHINGTON (dpa-AFX) – In response to the expulsion of ten Russian diplomats from the USA, Russia is imposing entry bans on high-ranking US government officials. These include Justice Secretary Merrick Garland and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, two members of US President Joe Biden’s cabinet. The Russian Foreign Ministry announced this on Friday evening in Moscow. FBI chief Christopher Wray and US intelligence coordinator Avril Haines are also on this list. Also affected is John Bolton, the former National Security Advisor to Biden predecessor Donald Trump.
Biden and Kremlin chief Vladimir Putin had previously spoken out in favor of de-escalating the conflict. Shortly afterwards, on Friday, Russia announced the expulsion of ten US diplomats. Moscow also imposed sanctions on the United States. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told the Interfax agency that Russia would also restrict the work of US organizations and foundations that interfered in the country’s internal affairs. Business trips by US diplomats to Russia would also be largely cut back.
In addition, the Minister advised US Ambassador John Sullivan to travel home to hold consultations in Washington. Russia had previously withdrawn its ambassador, Anatoly Antonov, from Washington. The entry bans for US ministers are likely to be primarily of a symbolic nature. Planned trips from Garland or Mayorkas to Russia are not known.
The White House in Washington ordered the deportation of Russian diplomats on Thursday in retaliation for a hacking attack attributed to Moscow and meddling in the US elections. In addition, a number of new sanctions have been imposed. Six Russian technology companies that support Moscow’s secret services are among those affected. In addition, according to the USA, 32 people and organizations are being sanctioned who tried, on Moscow’s behest, to influence US elections.
From Washington’s point of view, the punitive measures should include retaliation for a massive hacker attack on ministries, agencies and companies in the USA, which the American security authorities suspect Russia is behind. The attackers had gained access to the networks using maintenance software from SolarWinds, which was used in many places, and had remained undetected for months. The case, which became known in December, was an embarrassing setback for American security services.
A reaction from Russia was expected. The Kremlin had previously announced: “The principle of reciprocity in such matters has not been abolished.” The decision on this will be made by President Putin, said his spokesman Dmitri Peskov, according to the Interfax agency. Relations between the two countries have long been tarnished.
Usually Russia does not publish the names of people who have been sanctioned by Moscow. The Ministry had deviated from its usual practice this time, wrote the state agency Tass. The reason is the “unprecedented extent of the impairments that Washington has caused in Russian-American relations,” according to the ministry.
After the US sanctions were announced, Biden had initially adopted more conciliatory tones and emphasized that he did not want to further aggravate tensions with Moscow. “The US is not out to initiate a cycle of escalation and conflict with Russia,” said Biden on Thursday (local time) in the White House. At the same time he warned: “If Russia continues to interfere in our democracy, I am ready to take further measures.”
Prior to the Russian retaliation, the Kremlin had welcomed Biden’s desire to de-escalate. Putin’s position is also convinced that relations between the two countries should not escalate, said Kremlin spokesman Peskov, according to the Interfax agency. “In this regard, it is positive that the views of both heads of state are the same.”
Biden had proposed a summit to Putin in a third country in a phone call on Tuesday. On Thursday, the US President said that he proposed such a meeting to take place in Europe in the summer. It remains to be seen whether Putin will accept the invitation. The Kremlin said that sanctions were not helpful for such summit plans. In the end, however, the heads of state would have to decide for themselves whether they would meet.
The northern EU country Finland, meanwhile, has expressed its readiness to host the meeting with Putin proposed by Biden. The readiness to organize the possible meeting had been presented to both Washington and Moscow, announced the office of the Finnish President Sauli Niinist on Friday at the request of the German press agency.
A summit meeting between Putin and then US President Donald Trump had already taken place in Helsinki in 2018. Finland, like its Nordic neighbors Norway and Sweden, is known for mediating in international diplomacy. The non-NATO member is also the EU country with the longest border with Russia.
Moscow also reacted surprisingly harshly to the expulsion of three Russian diplomats from Poland. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Moscow announced that five Polish diplomats would have to leave Russia. Earlier there was talk of three embassy employees. Moscow usually reacts “mirror-like” and expels as many diplomats as the other country has to leave. Warsaw had explained its actions, among other things, by saying that the Russian employees had violated the conditions for diplomats. At the same time, Poland wants to show solidarity with the US decision./cy/DP/he