Washington — Dr. Fiona Hill, who served as a top adviser on Russia to former President Donald Trump, said Sunday that new sanctions the U.S. is readying against Russia in response to the poisoning of Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny are “obligatory” and believes Moscow is “well aware” they are coming.
“The Russians were already put on notice that the death of Navalny would be seen as a really serious event that would basically get some responses as well,” Hill said in an interview with “Face the Nation.” “So I think, you know, the Russians were certainly forewarned and, you know, probably well aware that these sanctions were coming.”
National security adviser Jake Sullivan told CNN on Sunday that the Biden administration is preparing another sanctions package in response to Russia’s targeting of Navalny, who was poisoned with Novichok, a Soviet-era nerve agent. The Russian opposition leader recovered in Germany but was jailed upon his return to Moscow in January.
President Biden told reporters last week that he warned Russian President Vladimir Putin at their summit in Geneva, Switzerland, that if Navalny dies, “the consequences of that would be devastating for Russia.”
Hill, meanwhile, said the sanctions are “actually obligatory because Navalny was poisoned, as we all now know, with Novichok, which is a banned nerve agent, essentially an illegal chemical weapon.” The substance was also used in the 2018 poisoning of Sergei Skripal, a former Russian spy, and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, England, which triggered sanctions against Russia.
“We’ve discovered they kept a lot of these novel agents, probably betting on the fact that they were so secret and so highly classified when any Western governments knew about them, that nobody would ever actually get to the bottom of the use of this substance and certainly wouldn’t divulge it,” Hill said.
In addition to addressing the attack on Navalny with Putin, Mr. Biden said he also warned the Russian president there would be consequences if Russian hackers target U.S. infrastructure with cyberattacks. The president said he gave Putin a list of 16 critical infrastructure entities that should be off-limits and vowed the U.S. would use its “significant cyber capability” to respond to malign cyber activity by Russia.
“The important point is to make that response credible, so it’s not so much that we’re telegraphing it publicly, but that some response happens behind the scenes,” Hill said. “There’s a clear message sent to the Russians that they understand this.”
Hill, however, said the “dilemma” is providing a list that is not comprehensive in terms of identifying what is off-limits and predicted there will be some covert action by Russia that goes beyond the 16 entities specified by the Biden administration.
The Russians, said she, “are very much testing the guardrails at all points, they are testing the limits.”
Hill said the cyber hostility from Russia is a “hot war,” because action has already been taken with the sweeping breach of SolarWinds, the interference in U.S. presidential elections and ransomware attacks by hacking gangs believed to be operating on Russian soil.
“In terms of information war, I mean, we know that the Russians have been out using social media platforms, all kinds of propaganda. So we’re already there,” she said. “I mean, what we’re trying to do is try to reel that back and to basically win that back, that is, and try to get some kind of restraint here. So we’re basically, I guess, now with the dilemma of, how do we do that? Can we get a comprehensive cyber agreement like we do in the nuclear weapons realm, or is that just going to be too difficult?”