WASHINGTON - Britain’s foreign secretary is calling for traditional Western allies to join in a united front against Russia’s “aggressive and malign behavior,” expressing confidence that the United States under President Donald Trump will lead the way.
British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt told an audience in Washington it is essential for the U.S., Britain and the European Union to stand firm against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s increasingly dangerous attacks on long-standing international norms.
“Those who don’t share our values, need to know that there will always be a serious price to pay if red lines are crossed by the territorial incursions, the use of banned weapons, or increasingly cyberattacks,” Hunt said Tuesday prior to talks with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
“He [Putin] is testing us,” Hunt added. “He is just wanting to see just how robust and how united the West is.”
Actions against Russia
Hunt said there are several reasons for optimism, praising the United States for its strong stance on Russia following the March poisoning of a former Russian agent and his daughter in the British town of Salisbury.
The U.S. expelled 60 Russian diplomats and imposed sanctions, pointing to the use of a Soviet-era nerve toxin known as Novichok.
U.S. and British officials have also accused Russia of seeking to interfere with their elections.
At the same time, U.S. President Donald Trump has repeatedly cast doubt on assertions that Russia sought to meddle in the U.S. election, taking to social media to dismiss an investigation into Russia's actions as a “rigged witch hunt.”
And in an interview Monday with the Reuters news agency, Trump said he would consider lifting sanctions against Russia in exchange for cooperation in Syria or Ukraine.
Hunt downplayed such concerns.
“President Trump is the most active president on social media that there’s ever been,” the British foreign secretary said. “It’s a different style of politics, but I think it’s important to look at what he does as well as what he says.”
“What you see is an approach to foreign policy that is different to his predecessors but is absolutely focused on upholding the international order,” Hunt said. “If you look at his actions he is also prepared to be very tough — tougher actually than a number of his predecessors to make sure people get the message about vital red lines.”
As if to back up Hunt’s assertions, top administration officials told U.S. lawmakers Tuesday they are prepared to impose additional sanctions on Russia if its behavior does not change.
Strategy against Russia
The administration’s strategy is to “continue raising the costs until Russian aggression ceases, while keeping the door open to dialogue,” Assistant Secretary of State Wess Mitchell told members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Already, existing sanctions are believed to have cost Russia up to $10 billion in arms sales alone, while slashing foreign investment by 80 percent.
“Though Russia’s malign activities continue, we believe its adventurism undoubtedly has been checked by the knowledge that we can bring much more economic pain to bear,” Acting Deputy Treasury Secretary Sigal Mandelker told the Senate Banking Committee. “We will not hesitate to do so if its conduct does not demonstrably and significantly change.”
Separately Tuesday, the U.S. Treasury Department announced new sanctions against two Russian companies and a Russian individual for helping Moscow try to avoid existing sanctions due to Russia’s cyber activities.
It also slapped Russian shipping companies with new sanctions for violating United Nations restrictions transferring refined petroleum products to North Korea.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov responded Tuesday in a statement on the ministry’s website, saying the new U.S. sanctions were groundless, promising a response from Moscow.
Still, some lawmakers and other officials are concerned Russia’s behavior is not changing quickly enough.
Microsoft said late Monday it had detected and disrupted efforts by the Kremlin-linked group known as Fancy Bear or APT28, to hack into or attack conservative U.S. think tanks as well as several U.S. senators.
Moscow has rejected Microsoft’s allegations, saying there is no evidence to support them.
Information from Reuters was used in this report.