President Biden’s administration in the U.S. has placed new sanctions on Russia over alleged cyberattacks affecting the U.S. and its allies.

What Is Russia Accused Of?

The U.S. government sanctions relate to:

– The ‘SolarWinds attack’ where cyber-criminals accessed 18,000 government and private computer networks. The U.S. appears to blame the Cosy Bear hackers for carrying out the attacks which then (allegedly) enabled Russia’s foreign intelligence service, the SVR, to spy on and disrupt the systems of many different organisations around the world.

– Alleged Interference in the 2020 U.S. presidential election.

Executive Order

The Executive order, issued by President Biden, accuses the Russian Federation of engaging in “harmful foreign activities” such as, “efforts to undermine the conduct of free and fair democratic elections and democratic institutions in the United States and its allies and partners; to engage in and facilitate malicious cyber-enabled activities against the United States and its allies and partners; to foster and use transnational corruption to influence foreign governments; to pursue extraterritorial activities targeting dissidents or journalists; to undermine security in countries and regions important to United States national security; and to violate well-established principles of international law, including respect for the territorial integrity of states”.

The Sanctions

The Executive Order from President Biden contains a long and detailed list of sanctions, and targets 32 entities and officials who the U.S. believe were involved in influencing the 2020 U.S. presidential election and engaged in other acts of disinformation. It is understood that the Order will initially lead to the expulsion of ten diplomats and will prohibit the purchase of rouble-denominated bonds by U.S. financial institutions, thereby causing Russia some financial pain.  The Executive Order can be viewed here: https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions/2021/04/15/executive-order-on-blocking-property-with-respect-to-specified-harmful-foreign-activities-of-the-government-of-the-russian-federation/.

Other Sanctions

The new, tougher stance towards Russia under the Biden administration led to other sanctions being imposed last month and targeted seven senior Russian officials and fourteen organisations.  The sanctions, which were mainly the freezing of assets held in the U.S. were made in response to the poisoning of opposition leader Alexei Navalny and more broadly to curb what the U.S. sees as a developing pattern of the use of chemical weapons by Russia (poisonings).  One U.K. example of this pattern was the use of Novichok in Salisbury to poison Sergei and Yulia Skripal.

It has also been reported that the same two Russian suspects wanted for the Salisbury poisonings are now wanted by the Czech Republic in relation to an ammunition depot explosion there in 2014. The Czech Republic is also expelling 18 Russian diplomats who it believes have been involved in spying.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

With the Biden administration and cooperating EU countries now signalling that they will be taking a harder line with Russia with what are designed to be proportionate responses to curb some of its most worrying and damaging activities, the idea is to try and restore some balance and order and return to more dialogue and diplomatic process rather than an escalation and conflict. The Solar Winds cyberattack, for example, is believed to have compromised 100 companies and a dozen government agencies in the U.S., including the Infrastructure Security Agency/ CISA whose job it was to protect federal computer networks from cyberattacks! The malicious code was implanted in a simple software update from the Texas-based company that was downloaded 18,000 times.  As such, the damage to agencies and big businesses and their stakeholders (including the many businesses down the line who may have been compromised) is still not fully known, and the expertise and effectiveness of the attack has worried western governments. Interference in state processes such as elections and cyberattacks with the sophistication of the SolarWinds one are a serious threat to businesses, organisations and even whole economies, so if sanctions are an effective way to help stop these, then this latest round of sanctions may be one step towards protecting western business, organisations, state agencies, and economies.