"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," said White House officials in a statement regarding the decision to impose sanctions on Russian individuals and entities Thursday.
Throughout the election, the threat of Russian interference was tantamount. As party operatives within the DNC saw their emails captured and then leaked to the world by hackers, U.S. intelligence officials found evidence that Russian groups were behind the actions in an attempt to shift the election in Trump’s favor. While various agencies disagree over the exact role that the Kremlin played in the activities and the extent to which they acted in a deliberate effort to thwart Hillary Clinton, all agree that there was Russian involvement and meddling to influence the election in some way or another. As such, the Obama administration has slapped sanctions on four Russian officials and five Russian entities while calling on 35 Russian diplomats to exit the country. A report from CNN on the matter finds that the federal government specifically took aim at “the GRU and the FSB, which are two Russian intelligence services; four individual officers of the GRU; and three companies that provided material support to the GRU's operations.”
Obama has had a rocky relationship with Vladimir Putin throughout his two terms, particularly pertaining to Russia’s involvement in the Syrian civil war, their invasion of sovereign Ukraine, and their willingness to undermine U.S. integrity with cyberwarfare. These sanctions reflect an Obama administration that stands in opposition to Putin’s Kremlin, Obama himself noting that he and his colleagues are outraged by their “efforts to harm US interests in violation of established international norms of behavior.”
Despite the broad consensus within the administration that Russia must be punished for its involvement with the U.S. election, the incoming Trump administration is reluctant to accept that inevitability. Trump has said, time and time again, that he wants to strengthen U.S. – Russia relations in his term, cozying up to Putin when other leaders of Western nations are condemning him for atrocities across the globe. He has selected Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State, a move that indicates the President-elect’s desire to make more deals and arrangements with the Russian government, given Tillerson’s close ties to the Kremlin and Russian business leaders.
With his pro-Russia stance, Trump has dismissed the Obama administration’s sanctions as ridiculous. "It's time for our country to move on to bigger and better things," he said in a statement. "Nevertheless, in the interest of our country and its great people, I will meet with leaders of the intelligence community next week in order to be updated on the facts of this situation."
Some pundits point to the fact that Trump has not yet been properly briefed on this particular matter and thus does not have enough information to make a truly sound decision or statement regarding its details. However, the fact that Trump has stood in outright opposition to any Obama administration or intelligence community decision to investigate or punish the Russians has created controversy for the President-elect.
This is worrisome because the intelligence community is intended to be non-partisan in nature, yet Trump has made it out to seem like an actionable arm of Obama’s liberal agenda. This creates an issue in that Americans will no longer trust the nation’s leading intelligence officials and might be misled by false information instead, such as that disseminated by Russian media groups throughout the election.
Russia has already issued its response to the sanctions, stating that they will respond to any “hostile steps” taken by the United States in retaliation to potential hacking during the election. However vague that statement may be, the Kremlin took a visible step in response to the U.S. when the closed down the Anglo-American School of Moscow, which serves the children of Western diplomats.
The issue will continue to play out in coming days, especially as Trump will take the White House from Obama in less than three weeks. He will have the authority to rescind the sanctions, given that they were imposed in the form of executive order, however top officials are warning Trump against such a move.
What do you think about Trump’s response to the Russian sanctions?