Only Barack Obama could make the Russian government seem level-headed by comparison.
On Thursday, Obama issued an executive order sanctioning 9 different entities associated with the Russian government and expelling 35 Russian diplomats (that the president calls “intelligence operatives”). In announcing this action to the public, he explained:
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.
All Americans should be alarmed by Russia’s actions. In October, my Administration publicized our assessment that Russia took actions intended to interfere with the U.S. election process. These data theft and disclosure activities could only have been directed by the highest levels of the Russian government. Moreover, our diplomats have experienced an unacceptable level of harassment in Moscow by Russian security services and police over the last year. Such activities have consequences. Today, I have ordered a number of actions in response.
While any Russian attempt to infiltrate our electronic security should be taken seriously and should be met with an appropriate response (in fact, if true the U.S. response to Russia should be much more severe), the government still refuses to share any evidence they have implicating Russia for the DNC/Clinton campaign hacks. Nor has the president clarified how he “knows” it was done in an effort to interfere in our electoral process.
In connection with the president’s statement, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of National Intelligence, and the FBI also issued a 13-page report asserting that the Russians have been involved in a decade-long hacking campaign against our nation. In a press release, the agencies announced:
Today, DHS and FBI released a Joint Analysis Report (JAR) which further expands on that statement by providing details of the tools and infrastructure used by Russian intelligence services to compromise and exploit networks and infrastructure associated with the recent U.S. election, as well as a range of U.S. government, political and private sector entities.
This activity by Russian intelligence services is part of a decade-long campaign of cyber-enabled operations directed at the U.S. Government and its citizens. These cyber operations have included spearphishing, campaigns targeting government organizations, critical infrastructure, think tanks, universities, political organizations, and corporations; theft of information from these organizations; and the recent public release of some of this stolen information.
This is something that we already knew, have known for years, and should expect is also being carried out against us by at least a dozen other nations (including China). But the memo was likely meant to reinforce Obama’s executive order.
Why would the president choose now to react to the Russians’ meddling when, as the security statement makes clear, the Russians have been doing this for more than a decade? It seems that the only reason for the diplomatic discipline would be the insinuation that the Russians were specifically attempting to meddle in our electoral process. However, no evidence is offered to show this to be the case. It seems more likely that the Obama administration continues to grasp at straws to explain how Hillary Clinton could be defeated by Donald Trump, and that by continuing to shift the blame to Russia, Obama and the Democrats can avoid owning up to their responsibility in the historic loss.
Whatever the reasons for choosing now to sanction Russia, the Russian government was not impressed and chose to react by mocking the Obama administration.
President Obama expels 35 🇷🇺 diplomats in Cold War deja vu. As everybody, incl 🇺🇸 people, will be glad to see the last of this hapless Adm. pic.twitter.com/mleqA16H8D
— Russian Embassy, UK (@RussianEmbassy) December 29, 2016
Normally, the Russians would likely respond in kind by sanctioning certain U.S. agencies and expelling a like number of American diplomats. In fact, on Friday morning they even signaled that they would do exactly that, but just a few hours later Vladimir Putin and his team shifted course. Instead of reacting as the world thought they might, Putin spoke benevolently about trying to ensure better relations with the Trump administration by choosing not to retaliate to Obama’s provocations.
As it proceeds from international practice, Russia has reasons to respond in kind. Although we have the right to retaliate, we will not resort to irresponsible ‘kitchen’ diplomacy but will plan our further steps to restore Russian-US relations based on the policies of the Trump Administration.
The diplomats who are returning to Russia will spend the New Year’s holidays with their families and friends. We will not create any problems for US diplomats. We will not expel anyone. We will not prevent their families and children from using their traditional leisure sites during the New Year’s holidays. Moreover, I invite all children of US diplomats accredited in Russia to the New Year and Christmas children’s parties in the Kremlin.
It is regrettable that the Obama Administration is ending its term in this manner. Nevertheless, I offer my New Year greetings to President Obama and his family.
My season’s greetings also to President-elect Donald Trump and the American people.
Putin even chooses to wish Obama and his family a Happy New Year!
I’m not one hundred percent sure what the calculations here were, but I don’t buy the “kinder, gentler” routine from Putin. My gut tells me that while Putin considered expelling certain American diplomats, he probably believes that by refusing to respond in a “tit-for-tat” manner he ends up looking like the adult in the room, while Obama looks like the whiny brat. This decision is likely all about optics; Putin looks magnanimous now and uses this small mercy to start things off on a better foot with Donald Trump come January 20.
Cross-posted at Constitution.com