(From left) Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis, Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics, Estonian Foreign Minister Eva-Maria Liimets and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba pose for a photo prior to their talks in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Thursday.
(From left) Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis, Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics, Estonian Foreign Minister Eva-Maria Liimets and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba pose for a photo prior to their talks in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Thursday.
The Associated Press

Kyiv

Ukraine's top diplomat asked Thursday for stronger Western backing, saying "words of support aren't enough" amid escalating tensions in the country's east and a Russian troop buildup across the border.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, speaking after talks with his counterparts from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, asked the Baltic nations to reach out to other European Union and NATO members about offering "practical assistance" to Kyiv.

More than 14,000 people have died in seven years of fighting between Ukrainian forces and Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine that erupted after Russia's 2014 annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula. Efforts to reach a political settlement have stalled and violations of a shaky truce have become increasingly frequent in recent weeks.

Ukraine and the West also have sounded alarms about the concentration of troops along Russia's western border, a buildup that the US and NATO have described as the largest since 2014.

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyyy is heading Friday to Paris to discuss the tensions with French President Emmanuel Macron.

Russia has argued that it's free to deploy its forces wherever it deems necessary on its territory.

The Russian defense minister charged earlier this week that the buildup was a response to security threats posed by NATO forces near Russia's borders.

Russia's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova on Thursday dismissed Western concerns about the Russian troop buildup as a "propaganda campaign" and urged the West to encourage Kyiv to de-escalate tensions in the east.

Kremlin officials have warned Ukraine against trying to use force to reclaim control of the rebel east, saying that Russia may intervene to protect Russian civilians in the region.

Amid the recent tensions, the United States informed Turkey that two US warships would sail to the Black Sea on April 14 and April 15 and stay there until for about three weeks.

But Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Thursday that the US Embassy had notified Ankara that the two warships wouldn't be making the crossing.

The US Navy ships have made regular visits to the Black Sea in past years, vexing Moscow. Earlier this week, a senior Russian diplomat described the planned US ships' deployment to the Black Sea as "openly provocative." The three Baltic nations said Thursday's visit by their top diplomats to Kyiv was intended to show support for Ukraine and send a warning message to Russia.

"This visit is intended to show that we stand in solidarity with Ukraine (and) strongly support this country and its right to self-defense," said Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis, adding that it was also to "demonstrate to Russia that further provocative actions can have consequences."

Ukraine seeks stronger Western backing amid Russian buildup

US expels 10 Russian diplomats, imposes new tough sanctions

Lalit K Jha

Washington

The US on Thursday announced the expulsion of 10 personnel from the Russian diplomatic mission in Washington as President Joe Biden signed a new sanctions executive order imposing tough sanctions against Russia arguing that it is imposing costs on the latter's actions against American sovereignty and interests.

In a communication to the Congress, Biden said that he has determined that specified harmful Russian activities - in particular, efforts to undermine the conduct of free and fair democratic elections and democratic institutions in the US and its allies and partners; constitute an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the US.

This Executive Order sends a signal that the US will impose costs in a strategic and economically impactful manner on Russia if it continues or escalates its destabilizing international actions, the White House said.

This includes, in particular, efforts to undermine the conduct of free and fair democratic elections and democratic institutions in the United States and its allies and partners; and engage in and facilitate malicious cyber activities against the United States and its allies and partners.

It also includes fostering and use of transnational corruption to influence foreign governments; pursuing extraterritorial activities targeting dissidents or journalists; undermining security in countries and regions important to United States national security; and violating well-established principles of international law, including respect for the territorial integrity of states.

Following the Executive Order, the Department of Treasury issued a directive that prohibits US financial institutions from participation in the primary market for ruble or non-ruble denominated bonds issued after June 14, 2021 by the Central Bank of the Russian Federation, the National Wealth Fund of the Russian Federation, or the Ministry of Finance of the Russian Federation.

It also prohibits them from and lending ruble or non-ruble denominated funds to the Central Bank of the Russian Federation, the National Wealth Fund of the Russian Federation, or the Ministry of Finance of the Russian Federation. This directive provides authority for the US government to expand sovereign debt sanctions on Russia as appropriate.

Treasury also designated six Russian technology companies that provide support to the Russian Intelligence Services' cyber program, ranging from providing expertise to developing tools and infrastructure to facilitating malicious cyber activities.

These companies are being designated for operating in the technology sector of the Russian Federation economy. "We will continue to hold Russia accountable for its malicious cyber activities, such as the SolarWinds incident, by using all available policy and authorities," the White House said.

The Administration is responding to the reports that Russia encouraged the Taliban attacks against US and coalition personnel in Afghanistan based on the best assessments from the Intelligence Community.

"Given the sensitivity of this matter, which involves the safety and well-being of our forces, it is being handled through diplomatic, military and intelligence channels. The safety and well-being of US military personnel, and that of our allies and partners, is an absolute priority of the United States," the White House said.

The United States announced to expel ten personnel from the Russian diplomatic mission in Washington, DC. The personnel include representatives of Russian intelligence services.

The Biden administration formally named the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), also known as APT 29, Cozy Bear, and The Dukes, as the perpetrator of the broad-scope cyber espionage campaign that exploited the SolarWinds Orion platform and other information technology infrastructures. The US Intelligence Community has high confidence in its assessment of attribution to the SVR.

The SVR's compromise of the SolarWinds software supply chain gave it the ability to spy on or potentially disrupt more than 16,000 computer systems worldwide. The scope of this compromise is a national security and public safety concern. "Moreover, it places an undue burden on the mostly private sector victims who must bear the unusually high cost of mitigating this incident," the White House said.

Today, the National Security Agency, the Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are jointly issuing a cybersecurity advisory, "Russian SVR Targets US and Allied Networks," that provides specific details on software vulnerabilities that the SVR uses to gain access to victim devices and networks.

The advisory also provides specific steps that network defenders can take to identify and defend against the SVR's malicious cyber activity, it said.

According to the White House, the United States continues to strongly affirm the importance of an open, interoperable, secure, and reliable Internet. Russia's actions run counter to that goal, which is shared by many of our allies and partners. To strengthen collective approach to bolstering cybersecurity, the Biden Administration announced two additional steps.

First, the US is bolstering its efforts to promote a framework of responsible state behaviour in cyberspace and to cooperate with allies and partners to counter malign cyber activities. "Second, we are reinforcing our commitment to collective security in cyberspace...," the White House said.

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