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Biden administration prepares to impose sanctions on Russia over Navalny poisoning and SolarWinds hack

The Biden administration is preparing to impose sanctions on Russia in the coming weeks over the poisoning and jailing of Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny and the SolarWinds hack, according to two administration officials familiar with the Navalny plans and a US official familiar with the hack response discussions.

Discussions about the response to the devastating security breach of at least nine federal agencies and dozens of private businesses are still ongoing but could come within a matter of weeks, the US official said, noting that the package will likely include sanctions and a cyber component, as well as other options that make clear just how serious the Biden administration views Russia’s actions more broadly.

The form the Navalny sanctions will take is being firmed up and they will likely be rolled out in coordination with the European Union, the two administration officials said.

The moves would be the first costs imposed on Russia by the Biden administration and would mark a clear departure from the strategy of the Trump administration, which failed to impose penalties over the poisoning and shied away from directly confronting Russia over its misdeeds.

EU High Representative Josep Borrell said Tuesday that Secretary of State Antony Blinken asked to coordinate actions against Russia over the Navalny case. Blinken addressed the EU Foreign Affairs Council on Monday.

National security adviser Jake Sullivan told CNN last week that the Biden administration’s response to the hack will come soon. “We’re not talking about months from now, but weeks from now, that the United States will be prepared to take the first steps in response to solar winds,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan also said that ‘what the previous administration said was, quote, ‘that it was likely of Russian origin.’ We believe we can go further than that.”

The Biden administration is not starting from scratch as they draft the options for Navalny sanctions. The State Department drew up options last year under the Trump administration but they were never imposed, a decision which mystified working level officials who developed them, one of the officials explained.

Politico was first to report that preparations are underway for Navalny sanctions and the Washington Post first reported the SolarWinds discussions.

Career diplomats grew frustrated throughout the Trump administration over inaction when it came to Russia. They have privately welcomed the direct nature of President Joe Biden’s first phone call with Putin, in which he confronted Putin about Russia’s malicious activities which former President Donald Trump had often avoided, three US diplomats told CNN.

The inaction of the Trump administration put the US out of step with its European allies when it comes to the poisoning of Navalny. EU nations rolled out Navalny sanctions shortly after his poisoning last year, but the US did not.

Blinken participated virtually in yesterday’s EU Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) on Monday and said he “welcomed the EU’s decision to impose sanctions against Russia under the human rights sanctions regime in response to actions taken against [Navalny] and his supporters.”

Biden administration officials point to ongoing intelligence reviews and their necessity of fully understanding the state of play before rolling out their entire Russia policy. The intelligence review includes the SolarWinds breach, Russian interference in the 2020 election, Russia’s use of chemical weapons against Navalny, and the alleged bounties on US soldiers in Afghanistan.

The White House did not reply to a request for comment.

Administration officials have promised that the intelligence review will move as expediently as possible.

“The Office of the Director of National Intelligence is working on this review very expeditiously,” said State Department Spokesperson Ned Price earlier this month. “I wouldn’t expect this review to take any longer than necessary.”

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