Tensions between Russia and the West are heating up. The U.S. government warned Thursday that Russians are using malware to attack the U.S. power grid. And the Trump administration has announced new financial sanctions on Russian hackers and spy agencies, in an attempt to punish Moscow for interference in the U.S. election in 2016, and for a major cyber attack in Ukraine. At the U.N. Security Council, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley made a statement backing the United Kingdom in its response to the poisoning death of a Russian living in Britain.

Joshua Shifrinson is a professor at Texas A&M’s Bush School of Government and Public Service. He teaches courses on U.S. foreign relations and international security. Shifrinson says British Prime Minister Theresa May’s response to the attack on Sergei Skripal seems proportional. Her government expelled 23 Russian diplomats. Since then, Russia has threatened retaliation.

“I think in some ways, this might be the first step in what’s called an escalatory chain,” Shifrinson says. “Where one action leads to a bigger step up the food chain, as both sides go back and forth for awhile.”

He says Britain wants to keep its options open, not using all of its ammunition against Russia in a single action. Shifrinson also points out that Brittain must continue to do business with Russia in other areas. He sees the initial response as an attempt to strike a balance in that relationship.

“We have to remember that the spy who was attacked, he’s a funny character,” Shifrinson says. “He was a member of the British establishment who was arrested for spying, and exchanged in a spy swap. While this is an attack on British soil, it’s also against a gentleman who didn’t have his hands totally clean.”

In the U.S., the Trump administration is using sanctions, much as the Obama administration did in 2016, to address Russian cyber-meddling.

“The Trump administration is very much following in its predecessor’s footsteps,” Shifrinson says. “I think it’s sending a signal that the U.S. Is taking these allegations seriously, but is also grasping for a way of responding.”

Shifrinson says it isn’t clear what, if anything, the U.S. has done to defend itself against further Russian interference.

Written by Shelly Brisbin.

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