Obama orders sanctions on Russia, expels 35 diplomats

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
US President Barack Obama holds a year-end press conference in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, DC, December 16, 2016. (Photo by AFP)

The United States has announced a series of economic sanctions against Russia, as well as expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats, over allegations that it interfered in the 2016 presidential election through cyberattacks.

"I have ordered a number of actions in response to the Russian government's aggressive harassment of US officials and cyber operations aimed at the US election," outgoing President Barack Obama said in a statement issued on Thursday.

"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 US interests in violation of established international norms of behavior,” he added.

According to statements from the White House and the Treasury Department, the sanctions target Russia's FSB and GRU intelligence agencies, four individual GRU officers, and three companies who allegedly provided support to the GRU, and two Russian individuals for using cyberattacks to cause misappropriation of funds and personal identifying information.

Under Thursday's actions, the US also shut down two Russian compounds in New York and Maryland that the United States says are used "for intelligence-related purposes."

In addition, Obama announced that the State Department will expel 35 Russian diplomats, declaring them as "persona non grata".

The diplomats are based out of the Russian embassy in Washington, DC, and the Russian consulate in San Francisco. They have been ordered to leave the US within 72 hours along with their families.

To impose the sanctions, Obama expanded the scope of a 2015 executive order giving the president the authority to punish foreign actors involved in cyberattacks against the country.

The US president also announced that the Department of Homeland Security and FBI will declassify “technical information on Russian civilian and military intelligence service cyber activity” to help networks defend against “Russia’s global campaign of malicious cyber activities.”

In another unprecedented announcement, Obama said the United States will carry out some covert operations to hurt Russia. 

“These actions are not the sum total of our response to Russia’s aggressive activities,” Obama said. “We will continue to take a variety of actions at a time and place of our choosing, some of which will not be publicized.”

The White House said in a statement that there was the consensus from the US Intelligence Community that Russia's intervention in the US election via cyberhacking as "unacceptable and will not be tolerated."

"Russia's cyberactivities were intended to influence the election, erode faith in US democratic institutions, sow doubt about the integrity of our electoral process, and undermine confidence in the institutions of the US government," the statement said. "These actions are unacceptable and will not be tolerated."

The Obama administration has repeatedly claimed that the hacking attacks weeks before the election against some Democratic organizations were carried out by Russia as part of Moscow’s plan to interfere in the election process in order to sway the vote in President-elect Donald Trump’s favor, a claim that has been rejected by Moscow.

According to Obama, US intelligence agencies are in possession of evidence that shows Russian President Vladimir Putin supervised the hacking, which targeted the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and John Podesta, a top aide to defeated Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

Graham, McCain, Ryan hail Obama’s move

Arizona Senator John McCain (left), and South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham

Several American lawmakers, including Republican Senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain, have called on the government to impose sanctions against Russia for its alleged meddling in the election.

They said in a joint statement that the sanctions were “overdue” yet “a small price for Russia to pay for its brazen attack on American democracy.”

The Republican senators also said that they “intend to lead the effort in the new Congress to impose stronger sanctions on Russia.”

In a statement released shortly after the announcement of sanctions, Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan described the Obama administration’s response an “overdue” yet “appropriate way to end eight years of failed policy with Russia.”

“Russia does not share America’s interests,” the statement said. “In fact, it has consistently sought to undermine them, sowing dangerous instability around the world.”

A spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that Moscow would consider retaliatory measures to the sanctions.

President-elect Trump has repeatedly called for better relations with Moscow. He has rejected claims that Russian intelligence agencies were responsible for the alleged hacking.

Talking to reporters at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida on Wednesday night, Trump downplayed the allegations of Russian intervention in the election and stressed the need to move forward. He also turned down talk of imposing sanctions against Russia.

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