[guest post by Dana]
President Obama has responded to Russia’s interference in our political process:
Today, I have ordered a number of actions in response to the Russian government’s aggressive harassment of U.S. officials and cyber operations aimed at the U.S. election. These actions follow repeated private and public warnings that we have issued to the Russian government, and are a necessary and appropriate response to efforts to harm U.S. interests in violation of established international norms of behavior.
I have issued an executive order that provides additional authority for responding to certain cyber activity that seeks to interfere with or undermine our election processes and institutions, or those of our allies or partners. Using this new authority, I have sanctioned nine entities and individuals: the GRU and the FSB, two Russian intelligence services; four individual officers of the GRU; and three companies that provided material support to the GRU’s cyber operations. In addition, the Secretary of the Treasury is designating two Russian individuals for using cyber-enabled means to cause misappropriation of funds and personal identifying information. The State Department is also shutting down two Russian compounds, in Maryland and New York, used by Russian personnel for intelligence-related purposes, and is declaring “persona non grata” 35 Russian intelligence operatives…
These actions are not the sum total of our response to Russia’s aggressive activities. We will continue to take a variety of actions at a time and place of our choosing, some of which will not be publicized.
Russia quickly took to Twitter in response:
This morning, John Bolton opined that President Obama’s actions fall short, and are an insufficient response to Russia’s “attack on our constitutional system.”:
“I don’t think they will have much impact at all,” Bolton told “Fox & Friends” on Friday of Obama’s sanctions, calling for actions that will “make the Russians feel pain.”
“The Russians have walked all over the Obama administration for eight years. It’s really been a pathetic performance.”
“The fact that Russia’s efforts were incompetent or insufficient shouldn’t make us feel better. No — it’s the effort that they made, if this is accurate, that should trouble us, not the fact that it failed.”
President Obama’s actions confirmed a bigger picture of concern:
Obama’s mass spy expulsion removes any doubt about the existence of Cold War 2.0. Thirty-five intelligence officers represent about one-third of the Russian spies which U.S. counterintelligence knows to be operating in our country. Both sides in this spy-game have a good idea of who the real diplomats are and who’s really an undercover spook. That is a setback for Moscow, since it will take time to rebuild damaged espionage networks, but its real-world impact will not be especially severe, since the Kremlin surely knew something like this was coming, thus giving Russian intelligence agencies time to develop back-up plans for this contingency.
This morning, it is being reported that Putin has opted to play the bigger man in response:
In a head-spinning turn of events on Friday, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia announced that he would not retaliate against the United States’ decision to expel Russian diplomats and impose new sanctions — hours after his foreign minister recommended doing just that.
Mr. Putin, betting on improved relations with the next American president, said he would not eject 35 diplomats or close any diplomatic facilities, rejecting a response to actions taken by the Obama administration on Thursday.
The switch was remarkable, given that the foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, had just recommended the retaliation in remarks broadcast live on national television, and given the long history of reciprocal expulsions between the two countries. Russian officials have traditionally been sticklers for diplomatic protocol.
“While we reserve the right to take reciprocal measures, we’re not going to downgrade ourselves to the level of irresponsible ‘kitchen’ diplomacy,” Mr. Putin said, using a common Russian idiom for quarrelsome and unseemly acts. “In our future steps on the way toward the restoration of Russia-United States relations, we will proceed from the policy pursued by the administration” of Donald J. Trump.
Putin then invited American diplomats and their families to celebrate the New Year with him at the Kremlin…
Of course, this is nothing but posturing, yet it is not hard to see that Putin is also biding his time until a friendlier Trump presidency is in place:
It’s clear that Moscow expects that the new Trump administration will take a far more lenient line with the Kremlin than President Obama is, suddenly, in his last days in the Oval Office. Just this week, President-elect Donald Trump yet again brushed off any notion that the Russians interfered in the election that won him the White House, adding that the country needs to “move on” from what he considers to be a stale issue. This led Sen. Lindsey Graham, a member of Trump’s own party, to note that 99 Senators agree with Obama and the Intelligence Community on the issue of Russian spy-games in 2016.
There’s the rub for Trump. While he and his surrogates continue to portray Russian espionage and covert action as non-issues, even as “fake news” conjured up by an alleged left-wing cabal of American spies, the espionage reality is well known in Washington, and a great many Republicans in Congress agree, at least in outline.
I’ve read a number of theories about why the president has been so slow to take action, in spite of being fully aware of the tampering into American politics by unfriendly states (See: OPM hack). Cynically, there is the suggestion that, ultimately, this is but an act of legacy protection by the president, as he works to seal in the public’s mind that Russia alone is to blame for Hillary Clinton’s devastating election loss…
This seems a good reminder: