Obama said that the newly announced measures were “retaliation” against the still unproven allegations of Russian interference in the recent US election.
Update: Putin, rejecting the suggestions of Russia’s own Foreign ministry, chose not to resort to “irresponsible ‘kitchen’ diplomacy” in responding to the US’ toughening of sanctions and expulsion of Russian diplomats. Though he said that Russia has the right to retaliate, Putin added that the Russian government will instead begin planning “our further steps to restore Russian-US relations based on the policies of the Trump Administration.” This latest diplomatic stunner will only further highlight outgoing President Obama’s “lame-duck” status.
Even though he only has days left in office, outgoing President Barack Obama seems intent on further unraveling US-Russian diplomatic relations. Yesterday, Obama delivered on his promise to “punish Russia” for alleged election interference by signing off on an executive order that ejected 35 Russian intelligence operatives from the US, imposed sanctions on Russia’s top intelligence agencies, and the closing of two Russian compounds in Maryland and New York. Affected persons were given 72 hours to leave the US and access to the two compounds will be cut off at noon today.
Despite the consequences such actions are likely to have, the inter-agency report that Obama cited as justification begins with a disclaimer saying that “This report is provided ‘as is’ for informational purposes only. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) does not provide any warranties of any kind regarding any information contained within.” This suggests that the move is much more political than retaliatory in nature. However, as even the New York Times notes, it is unclear what, if any, significant impact these sanctions and other measures will actually have, other then adding the near collapse of US-Russian diplomatic cooperation to Obama’s already tarnished “legacy.”
Russia was quick to respond with the Kremlin condemning the outgoing administration’s decision as proof of Obama’s “unpredictable and aggressive” foreign policy. The Kremlin press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters that “we regret the fact that this decision was taken by the US administration and President Obama personally […] we consider this decision and these sanctions unjustified and illegal under international law.” Peskov then promised that there would be an “adequate, reciprocal” reaction “that will deliver significant discomfort to the US side in the same areas.” Soon after, Russia’s foreign ministry proposed the expulsion of 35 American diplomats as well as a ban on the use of a recreation and storage facility used by US diplomats in Moscow. Contrary to an actual fake news report from CNN, Russia has no plans to close a school for the children of English-speaking diplomats. RT reported that Maria Zakharova, spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, said “This is lies. Apparently, the White House has gone completely mad and began to invent sanctions against their own children.”
Regardless of whether the already tense situation worsens between now and Obama’s last day in office, it seems likely that incoming President Donald Trump is set to take a very different stance on US-Russian relations. Trump has consistently doubted the outgoing administration’s allegations of Russian election interference or their involvement with Wikileaks or the hacking of the Democratic National Committee. He has also cast doubt on the credibility of US intelligence agencies in such matters, suggesting that anyone could have been behind the hack. Upon assuming office, Trump will have the option to lift these newly imposed sanctions, a move which would serve as a clear rejection of US intelligence findings and lay bare the divisions within the federal government over the use of aggressive foreign policy tactics.
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