Some say revenge is a dish best served cold. When it comes to alleged electoral interference by Russia, the White House apparently thinks it’s also best served largely symbolically.
On Thursday, President Obama announced several emblematic measures against Russia for “cyber operations aimed at the US election”, including expelling 35 Russian intelligence operatives from the United States, sanctioning two of the country’s security agencies and releasing a declassified report detailing malicious cyber activity by Russian actors.
For months, the White House has threatened a “proportional” response to Russia’s alleged hacks of Democratic figures and institutions during this year’s US election. Finally coming weeks after the election itself due to fears of Russian retaliation, Obama aides told The New York Times that the sanctions may have been too little, too late.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry, however, condemned the measures as “one last blow to relations” by the outgoing Obama administration and vowed “if Washington takes new hostile steps, it will receive an answer”.
“Frankly speaking, we are tired of lies about Russian hackers that continue to be spread in the United States from the very top,” said spokesperson Maria Zakharova in a statement. “The Obama administration launched this misinformation half a year ago in a bid to play up to the required nominee at the November presidential election and, having failed to achieve the desired effect, has been trying to justify its failure by taking it out with a vengeance on Russian-US relations.”
For his part, US President-elect Donald Trump has repeatedly dismissed suggestions of Russian interference, even questioning the findings of the American intelligence community. By publicly releasing a joint analysis report by the FBI and Homeland Security pointing the figure at Russia, Obama will force Trump to directly refute their claims — and the suspicions of his fellow Republicans — if he wishes to lift the sanctions once in office.
Asked about Russian hacking and possible sanctions on Wednesday, however, Trump only noted, “I think that computers have complicated lives very greatly.”
“I think we ought to get on with our lives,” said Trump. “The whole age of computer has made it so nobody knows exactly what’s going on.”