The outgoing administration of Barack Obama slapped new sanctions on Russia in retribution for the Kremlin’s alleged hacking into US political party computer networks and its attempted to influence the outcome of November’s general election, news reports said on December 29.
The White House expelled 35 Russian diplomats on 72 hours notice on December 20 and imposed travel bans and asset freezes of any assets in the US on the head of Russia’s military intelligence (GRU) and the Federal Security Service (FSB).
Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Moscow would not “stoop to the level of the so-called ‘catfight’” and expel US diplomats from Russia in response to “unfriendly actions by the outgoing US administration”. Instead, the Russian leader sent New Year best wishes to Obama and invited the children of US diplomats to the Kremlin for new year’s celebrations.
In addition, on December 20 the original sanctions list was extended to include seven individuals, several dozen organisations and two vessels under the Russian flag were included into the list. Nine regional units of Russian gas producer Novatek are now on the sanctions list. Furthermore, Crimean Ports, Crimean Railways, Stroiproekt Institute, Transflot, and others are in the hit list as well. Marshal Zhukov and Stalingrad, two vessels bearing the Russian flag and subjected to sanctions, belong to Transflot company.
Putin’s move to refrain from retaliation played well at home, creating an image of the president being above the petty point scoring, demining the allegations and appearing magnanimous.
More significantly the lack of action will make it easier for the incoming administration of Donald Trump to wind down these and the other sanctions. The new sanctions were an attempt to inflate tensions with Russia and box Trump in, say analysts, but by ignoring them Putin has created some space for Trump to go along with the line that the new sanctions are unnecessary and so can be removed.
President-elect Trump repeated earlier statements on January 1 that there is insufficient evidence of Russia’s interference in the US election and his desire to “move on” from the fight with Russia.
Trump seems to be willing to play ball and applauded Putin’s low key response to the new sanctions in a twitter response on December 30. “Great move on delay (by V.Putin) – I always knew he was very smart!” Trump linking the GRU to the case is weak, according to Bloomberg commentator Leonid Bershidsky.
Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone gave a good round-up of the quality of the evidence and is among many in the US media establishment calling for more disclosure to avoid another “WMD debacle”.