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Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Putin Tests Biden’s Cyber Vow

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Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting with members of the government via teleconference at the Kremlin in Moscow on July 7.



Photo:

alexey nikolsky/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Barack Obama’s

misadventures in Syria showed that a President shouldn’t draw red lines he isn’t willing to enforce. President

Biden

hasn’t been afraid to talk tough and set expectations with

Vladimir Putin,

but will Mr. Biden enforce his own red lines?

Media reports suggest that the SVR, Russia’s foreign intelligence service, was behind a recent cyber attack on a Republican National Committee contractor. The same outfit hit the Democratic National Committee six years ago and was behind the more recent SolarWinds attack on U.S. government agencies and corporations. The RNC attack took place last week, around the same time as a Russian-linked gang struck hundreds of American businesses with ransomware.

Mr. Putin has spent his time in power invading neighbors, meddling in Western elections, cheating on arms-control agreements—and allowing cyber attacks against the U.S. This despite the best efforts to improve relations from

George W. Bush,

Mr. Obama and

Donald Trump.

Mr. Biden’s team argued that last month’s summit wouldn’t solve a problem like Mr. Putin but could limit the damage. The new cyberattacks suggest this was wrong.

Mr. Biden has said he gave Mr. Putin a list of 16 critical infrastructure areas that should be “off-limits” from cyber attacks. He warned after the meeting that “if, in fact, they violate these basic norms, we will respond with cyber.” The President suggested over the weekend that the U.S. would respond if it found the Kremlin at fault over the recent attacks.

Mr. Putin is not omniscient and his grip on Russia isn’t as firm as it sometimes seems. But he was—or should have been—aware of an attack on a major political target in the U.S. If Russian hackers are independent of the government, Moscow should be willing to cooperate with Washington and bring them to justice. Note that these cyber-criminals in Russia never seem to attack targets in Russia.

If the U.S. doesn’t respond, it will be open season on America’s digital infrastructure. Proportionate retaliation runs the risk of escalation. But after publicly drawing a red line, Mr. Biden has no choice lest he show Mr. Putin and other thugs around the world that the U.S. President’s words are empty.

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