Obama slaps sanctions on Russia over election hacking, expels 35 diplomats

In a sweeping response to election hacking, U.S. President Barack Obama on Thursday sanctioned Russian intelligence services and their top officials and shuttered two Russian-owned compounds in the U.S. It was the strongest action the Obama administration has taken to date to retaliate for a cyberattack.

The administration also kicked out 35 Russian officials over what it called a campaign of harassment by Russia against U.S. diplomats in  Moscow.  

“All Americans should be alarmed by Russia’s actions,” Obama said in a statement released while he was vacationing in Hawaii. He added: “Such activities have consequences.”

In a bid to expose Moscow’s cyber aggression, the U.S. also released a detailed report about Russia’s hacking infrastructure that it said was designed to help computer specialists prevent more hacking. And, Obama said more action was coming.

“These actions are not the sum total of our response to Russia’s aggressive activities,” Obama said in a statement released while he was vacationing in Hawaii. The U.S. has previously left open the possibility it could mount a retaliatory strike.

Russia calls sanctions ‘aggressive’

The spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin said the new sanctions were a sign of Obama’s “unpredictable and, if I may say, aggressive foreign policy” and were aimed at undermining U.S. president-elect Donald Trump.

“We think that such steps by a U.S. administration that has three weeks left to work are aimed at two things: to further harm Russian-American ties, which are at a low point as it is, as well as, obviously, to deal a blow to the foreign policy plans of the incoming administration of the president-elect,” Dmitry Peskov told reporters in Moscow.

Ahead of the announcement, Russia’s foreign ministry had threatened to retaliate against American diplomats if the U.S. took action against Russian officials.


U.S. President Barack Obama talks with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin as they gather for a family photo with fellow world leaders at the start of the 2015 G20 summit in Turkey. Russia says relations between the two countries is ‘at a low point.’ (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

The White House has promised to release a report before Obama leaves office detailing Russia’s cyber interference in U.S. elections, a move that could address Russia’s complaints that the U.S. hasn’t shown proof of its involvement. But the U.S. moved forward with the response Thursday even as the report has yet to be released.

Still, Obama administration officials said the list of entities Obama was sanctioning made clear who exactly the U.S. believes was behind hacking of Democratic groups and the theft of emails from Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman.

Obama ordered sanctions against two Russian intelligence services, the GRU and the FSB, plus companies the U.S. says support the GRU. The cybersecurity firm hired by the Democratic National Committee to investigate theft of its emails determined earlier this year the hacking came from the Fancy Bear group, believed to be affiliated with the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence agency.


Russian President Vladimir Putin, rigtht, and GRU military intelligence head Valentin Korabelnikov, centre, listen to explanations during a visit at the new GRU military intelligence headquarters building in Moscow in 2006. The U.S. has slapped sanctions against the GRU. (ITAR-TASS via Reiters )

The president also sanctioned Lt- Gen. Korobov, the head of GRU, and three of his deputies. Other individuals sanctioned include Alexei Belan and Yevgeny Bogachev, two Russian nationals who have been wanted by the FBI for cyber crimes for years.

Obama said the hacking “could only have been directed by the highest levels of the Russian government,” a contention the U.S. has used to suggest Russian President Vladimir Putin was personally involved.

72 hours to get out 

Although the White House announced at the same time it was kicking out Russian officials and closing facilities, it said those were responses to other troubling Russian behaviour: harassment of U.S. diplomats by Russian personnel and police.

The 35 Russian diplomats being kicked out are intelligence operatives, Obama said. The State Department said they were being declared “persona non grata,” and they were given 72 hours to leave the country.

The two compounds being closed down are recreational facilities owned by Russia’s government, one in Maryland and one in New York, the U.S. said. The White House said Russia had been notified that Russia would be denied access to the sites starting noon on Friday.

Russian officials have denied the Obama administration’s accusation that the Russian government was involved at the highest levels in trying to influence the U.S. presidential election.


U.S. president-elect Donald Trump has dismissed as ‘ridiculous’ claims Russian hacked the Democratic Party in an effort to help him win the election. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that Russia’s goal was to help Trump win — an assessment Trump has dismissed as ridiculous.

The move puts the president-elect in the position of having to decide whether to roll back the measures once in office.

Article source: