Russia sanctions US officials and expels diplomats in retaliation

Russia sanctioned eight senior US administration officials Friday, including FBI director Christopher Wray and Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, one of several measures a day after President Joe Biden announced sweeping sanctions against Russia and warned against a “cycle of escalation.”

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Friday that Russia will also expel 10 US diplomats, curb the activity of US non-profit groups in the country, impose new limits on American diplomats and diplomatic outposts, and consider “painful” measures against US businesses in retaliation for Thursday’s punitive actions by the Biden administration.

Lavrov also said the Kremlin has told the US Ambassador to Russia, John Sullivan, that he should return to Washington to hold “detailed” and “serious” consultations. Russia’s ambassador to the US returned to Moscow in March after Biden said he believed Russian President Vladimir Putin to be a “killer” in a TV interview.

The moves are “just a part of the possibilities at our disposal,” the Russian foreign ministry warned in a statement on its website, and follow Thursday’s announcement that Moscow will block foreign naval ships and state vessels in the Kerch Strait, the sea of Azov and parts of the Black Sea.

Friday’s wave of Russian penalties comes in a week when Secretary of State Antony Blinken, speaking for the US and its NATO allies, expressed deep concerns about Moscow’s military build-up along the border with Ukraine, and the US intelligence community said in an annual report that Russia “presents one of the most serious intelligence threats to the United States.”

A US State Department spokesperson called the Russian steps “escalatory and regrettable.”

READ: United States imposes sanctions on Russia over cyber-attacks, election interference