Biden warns US will 'take further action' against Russia if necessary but says 'now is the time to deeescalate'

PRESIDENT Joe Biden announced a string of sweeping sanctions against Russia on Thursday, punishing Moscow for its interference in the 2020 election, hacking of government networks and "abuses in Crimea".

In brief remarks delivered from the East Room of the White House, Biden said, "We cannot allow a foreign power to interfere in our democratic process with impunity."

Biden said that when he was running for president he promised to "react to any attempt to interfere with our elections", which is what he said he was doing with his latest round of sanctions on Russia.

The president added: "If Russia continues to infer with our democracy I am prepare to take addition steps to respond."

Biden did however call for unity, insisting that Washington is willing to work with Moscow.

"Now is the time to deescalate through thoughtful dialogue," Biden said. "The United State is ready to move through that process.

"Where there's an interest for the United States to work with Russia, we should and we will."

The announcement came as one of a number of dramatic foreign policy steps Biden has taken in recent days, including his decision to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan.

Thursday's sanctions came after Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed deep concerns to NATO allies about Russia's military build up along the border of Ukraine and in Crimea.

And two days after Blinken's comments, the US intelligence community said in an annual report that Russia poses "one of the most serious intelligence threats to the United States."

As part of today's announcement, the US formally named the Russia Foreign Intelligence Service as the perpetrator behind the SolarWinds hack, that was uncovered in December last year.

The White House also said that it is expelling 10 Russian diplomats in Washington, including "representatives of Russian intelligence services," as a consequence of the hack and for election meddling.

As first reported by Reuters, Biden's executive order will also be used to restrict Russia's ability to issue sovereign debt to punish Moscow for interfering in last year's election.

Among the other sanctions set to be auctioned is the blacklisting of  six Russian tech companies that support the Russian intelligence services' cyber program, as well as 32 entities and individuals for carrying out "Russian government-directed attempts to influence the 2020 US presidential election."

The White House said that it was not imposing punishment for reports that Russia encouraged Taliban attacks against US and coalition troops in Afghanistan because the US intelligence has only "low to moderate confidence" over claims Russia offered bounties, CNN reported.

The Biden administration has already carried out one round of sanctions against Russia, for the poisoning of the opposition leader Aleksei A. Navalny.

Russia denies meddling in US elections, orchestrating a cyber hack that used US tech company SolarWinds Corp to penetrate government networks, and using a nerve agent to poison Navalny.

It has also brushed off allegations that it put bounties on US soldiers in Afghanistan, as US intelligence officials have previously reported.

Biden on Tuesday spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin to raise concerns about these issues and the build up of Russian forces in Crimea and along the border with Ukraine.

Speaking on Thursday, Biden said he warned Putin he could've gone a step further with the sanctions but didn't, in the interests of diplomacy.

"I was clear with President Putin that we could have gone further, but I chose not to do so. I chose to be proportionate," Biden said.

The president appears to be trying to strike a balance between defending US national interests against Russia while making clear he would prefer to have a less volatile relationship and to cooperate on issues such as curbing Iran's nuclear program.

An earlier statement issued by the White House affirmed that stance.

"The Biden administration has been clear that the United States desires a relationship with Russia that is stable and predictable," the White House said.

"We do not think that we need to continue on a negative trajectory. However, we have also been clear — publicly and privately — that we will defend our national interests and impose costs for Russian Government actions that seek to harm us."

Earlier Thursday, Biden cancelled the deployment of two US warships from the Black Sea despite warning Vladimir Putin there would be 'repercussions' for the troop build-up in Ukraine.

Turkey had announced Washington was sending two warships to the region, deemed by Russia to be a provocation.

However, Biden's administration appeared to reverse the decision after the Kremlin warned them to "stay away for their own good".

More to follow…

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