WASHINGTON — In a Thursday speech, President Biden explained his decision to impose new sanctions on Russia, saying that Vladimir Putin’s government had attempted to interfere with the 2020 U.S. presidential election and was behind a massive hack targeting America.
“We cannot allow a foreign power to interfere in our democratic process with impunity,” Biden said in remarks delivered in the East Room of the White House.
On Thursday morning, Biden signed an executive order that imposed a range of new sanctions and the expulsion of diplomats. The sanctions allow the U.S. government to block bond transactions between U.S. institutions and Russian banks and reserves the right for the U.S. to expand these sovereign debt sanctions.
In his remarks from the White House, Biden said he had warned Putin repeatedly in the past several months that there would be consequences for Russia’s meddling in U.S. elections, the SolarWinds data breach of U.S. government computers and its continued aggression in Crimea.
In a call with Putin on Wednesday, Biden said he informed Putin of the new sanctions, but also stressed that he had sought to deliver a “proportionate” response to them.
“I was clear with President Putin that we could’ve gone further. But I chose not to do so. I chose to be proportionate,” Biden said. “The United States is not looking to kick off a cycle of escalation and conflict with Russia. We want a stable, predictable relationship.”
Biden added that further retaliatory action against Russia was not off the table.
“If Russia continues to interfere with our democracy, I’m prepared to take further actions to respond,” Biden said.
As part of the Biden administration’s retaliatory actions, the Treasury Department unveiled sanctions against 32 entities and individuals on Thursday. The White House, meanwhile, expelled 10 Russian diplomats from Washington.
In a show of support for the new sanctions, foreign ministers from the G-7 nations — Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the U.K. — joined the U.S. in a statement issued Thursday.
“We call on Russia to cease its provocations and to immediately de-escalate tensions in line with its international obligations,” the statement said.
While Biden said he was firm with Putin during Wednesday’s call, he also stressed that the two leaders should continue to speak one-on-one and proposed that they hold a summit in the coming months.
“I expressed my belief that communication between the two of us, personally and directly, was to be essential in moving forward to a more effective relationship, and he agreed on that point,” Biden said. “To that end, I proposed that we meet in person this summer in Europe for a summit to address a range of issues facing both of our countries.”
Kremlin and White House readouts of Wednesday’s phone call between the two men make no mention of conversations about jailed Putin opposition leader Alexey Navalny.
Asked about the omission Wednesday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki assured that “the health, the safety of Alexei Navalny is raised frequently and through many channels.”
In a March interview with ABC News, Biden was asked whether he thought Putin was a “killer.”
“I do,” Biden replied, a response that drew a sharp rebuke from Russia, which also promptly recalled its ambassador to Washington.
On Thursday, Biden’s tone was far less critical, as he repeatedly highlighted the potential in an ongoing partnership with Russia.
“The way forward is through thoughtful dialogue and the diplomatic process,” said Biden.
As yet, there has been no formal response from the Kremlin regarding Biden’s proposal for a summit.
Biden seemed optimistic about the prospect for good relations between the U.S. and Russia, but made sure to underscore that he will not be bullied or allow himself to be taken advantage of by Putin.
“My bottom line is this: When there is interest to work with Russia, we should and we will,” Biden said. “And when Russia seeks to violate the interests of the United States, we will respond.”
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