New US sanctions won't 'help' Putin-Biden summit plans: Kremlin

Moscow (AFP) –


The Kremlin said Thursday that looming US sanctions against Russia in retaliation for alleged election interference and hacking will not "help" a potential summit between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his US counterpart Joe Biden.

The new sanctions come just after Biden in a phone call with Putin on Tuesday invited him to hold a summit on neutral ground, after tensions between the West and Russia escalated in recent weeks over the conflict in Ukraine.

US media reported that Washington will announce on Thursday sanctions affecting more than 30 Russian entities, expelling more than 10 Russian diplomats from the United States and expanding an existing ban on US banks trading in Russian government debt.

"What is currently being discussed -- likely sanctions -- will in no way help such a meeting. That is unambiguous," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters, referring to the summit.

He said however that it will be up to Putin and Biden to decide whether the summit will still go ahead.

Just a day earlier, Moscow was hailing the summit as a win for Putin, with officials saying that it was a sign Washington had budged first over the conflict in Ukraine.

A Russian troop build-up on the border with Ukraine -- where government forces have been fighting pro-Russia separatists since 2014 -- in recent weeks had sparked alarm in the West and warnings from NATO.

In their call on Tuesday, Biden and Putin had said they would "continue dialogue", after ties plummeted when the US president caused an uproar in Moscow last month by agreeing with a description of his Russian counterpart as a "killer".

But the Kremlin also summoned US ambassador to Moscow John Sullivan on Wednesday and told him that Washington must refrain from introducing new sanctions on Russia if it wants to mend ties, a Russian foreign ministry spokesperson told AFP.

- 'Tempest in a teapot' -

The new sanctions bar US financial institutions from purchasing new Russian national ruble debt for the first time, after a measure first adopted in 2019 targeted debt in foreign currencies.

Analysts say that the move is a much tougher penalty than usual, with US sanctions typically targeting individuals Washington believes are close to the Kremlin.

But they also say the Kremlin is prepared, as Russia has limited debt and a balanced budget.

"It's a tempest in a teapot," said Sergei Khestanov, an economist at the Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration.

"For over a decade, the policy of the Russian monetary authorities has been aimed at keeping the budget deficit at a low level," he said.

"The Russian state has planned for a scenario in which it faces restrictions like this to its debt -- and it's been seriously preparing for a long time".

In announcing new sanctions, US media reported that Washington is also set to formally accuse Russian intelligence of carrying out the 2020 SolarWinds hack that targeted more than 100 US companies and 18,000 government and private computer networks.

Russia has denied carrying out the attack.

Ties between Washington and Moscow have frayed since 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine and a conflict broke out between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russia separatists in the east.

Relations have since reached their lowest point since the Cold War, with the United States imposing a series of sanctions on Russia, including over alleged hacking of its 2016 presidential vote and the jailing of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.