Secretary of State Antony Blinken had harsh words for Moscow and suggested sanctions against Russia were on the horizon in an interview with NBC News that aired on Monday. While the US and Russia recently agreed to extend New START, the vital nuclear arms treaty, the Biden administration is otherwise taking a hostile stance towards Moscow.
Blinken condemned the Russian government’s response to recent protests and the jailing of Alexei Navalny, the opposition figure who the US alleges was poisoned by Moscow. Blinken was asked if the Biden administration was planning sanctions on Russia in response to what happened to Navalny. “Actually, we are reviewing a series of Russian actions that are deeply, deeply, disturbing,” he said.
Those actions that the Biden administration is “reviewing” include completely unsubstantiated claims, like the allegation that Russia paid bounties to the Taliban to kill US soldiers in Afghanistan. The bounty allegation first surfaced back in June 2020, when a thinly-sourced story from The New York Times made the claim.
Since the Times report, just about every US military leader said the Russian bounty story was uncorroborated. Regardless of the facts, the story was used to add an amendment to the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act that blocks funds for troop withdrawals from Afghanistan, and the Biden administration seems poised to take action against Russia for it.
Another alleged Russian action the Biden administration is reviewing is the hack of the software firm SolarWinds that affected several US government agencies. In January, US intelligence agencies said that Russia was “likely” behind the hack but offered no evidence to substantiate the claim. US politicians and media outlets blamed Russia for the hack almost immediately after it was discovered despite a lack of evidence.
Another claim against Russia the Biden administration wants to take action over is alleged election interference. One of the main allegations underpinning the election interference narrative is that Russia hacked the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and provided WikiLeaks with emails that were published in 2016.
The allegation that Russia hacked the DNC came from the cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike. In 2020, declassified testimony revealed that CrowdStrike President Shawn Henry told the House Intelligence Committee that his firm had no “concrete evidence” that alleged Russian hackers stole data from the DNC servers.
Even though many of the allegations against Russia are baseless, they were important enough for President Biden to bring up with Russian President Vladimir Putin in their first phone call.