United States and Russia face increased diplomatic tensions

Earlier this year, large protests occurred across Russia in response to the jailing of opposition activist Alexei Navalny.

Since then, Navalny has been convicted of parole violations and sent to prison where Navalny undertook a hunger strike, leaving him in critical medical condition. Most recently, Russian authorities moved to suspend the political activities of Navalny’s offices.

This suspension is seen as a preemptive move, as a court ruling is expected to outlaw the opposition movement associated with Navalny, label the movement as “extremist” and enable arrests of supporters, according to the Guardian.

The suspension included a ban on protesting and publishing articles associated with Navalny’s political organization.

Navalny has since ended his hunger strike, according to NPR.

The hunger strike originated on March 31 because Navalny claimed he was being refused medical care to treat leg and back pain. The decision to stop the hunger strike came after a doctor said that Navalny could die soon if it continued.

According to NPR, international leaders, including U.S. President Joseph Biden, expressed concern for Navanly’s life, and public pressure helped allow Navalny to see doctors recently.

Additionally, this occurred against the backdrop of a buildup of Russian troops on its  border with Ukraine, but have since been dispersed according to The Guardian.

The military exercises were met with concern due to Russia’s annexation of the Ukrainian territory of Crimea and increased tensions surrounding the conflicts between Russian-backed separatists in Eastern Ukraine, according to the Associated Press.

The Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski expressed concern in an interview with CNN. 

“Remember that back in 2014, the Russians were very close to carrying out Operation Novorossiya, which would have been taking over half of Ukraine and cutting it off of the Black Sea,” Sikorshi said. “And I think those plans are still being considered.”

Operation Novorossiya refers to an envisioned new Russian territory in southern Ukraine which would connect two different sepratist groups currently under Ukrainian control, according to the Washington Post. The idea was abandoned in 2015.

Russian President Vladmir Putin’s recent state of the nation address also made news due to the foreign policy vision which was laid out.

“I hope that no one dares to cross the red line in respect to Russia, and we will determine where it is in each specific case,” Putin said, according to the Associated Press. “Those who organize any provocations threatening our core security interests will regret their deeds more than they regretted anything for a long time.”

In addition to the harsh treatment of Navalny and the increased military tensions with Ukraine, Russia is also facing condemnation due to a cyber attack on several government departments and large companies in the United States.

According to NPR, this hack occurred through a routine software update, and the affected parties include the Departments of Defense, Energy, Treasury and Justice as well as Microsoft, Intel and Cisco among other companies and governmental agencies.

This cyber attack, known as the SolarWinds cyber attack, enabled the hackers to look at emails, and potentially plant something for a more destructive purpose moving forward. The hackers had access to the affected computer networks for nine months, according to NPR.

In response, President Biden signed an executive order to sanction Russian financial institutions, technology companies and individuals associated with harmful foreign activities, according to Vox. 

In a press release, the White House advocated for a stable and predictable relationship between the U.S. and Russia, but emphasized willingness to defend the national interests of the United States.

“This (Executive Order) sends a signal that the United States will impose costs in a strategic and economically impactful manner on Russia if it continues or escalates its destabilizing international actions,” the press release states.

The report goes on to list the particular behaviors that lead to the sanctions, including meddling in elections, undermining American democracy, Russia’s cyber activities, foster transnational corruption to influence foreign governments, the targeting of dissidents and journalists and undermining security in regions important to the United States, among other accusations.

In response, Russia levied similar sanctions against the United States including sending back diplomats and banning several high ranking government officials from entering Russia, according to TASS.

Despite the escalations through sanctions, cyber attacks and military posturing, there remains commitment to attempt lessening the tensions between the U.S. and Russia.

According to U.S. News & World Report, Putin and Biden are planning a summit in a European country sometime in the summer. Biden also has recently called for cooler heads to prevail.

“Now is the time to de-escalate,” Biden said, according to NBC News. “The way forward is through thoughtful dialogue and diplomatic process.”