Yesterday, the Obama Administration announced a series of sanctions against Moscow in retaliation for its alleged interference and manipulation of this year’s presidential election.
According to allegations brought by the FBI and the CIA, Russian operatives intervened in the election, hacking into computers and spreading information (as well as disinformation) that undermined Hillary Clinton and skewed the contest in favor of Trump.
Considering how well the alleged machinations worked out for him (not to mention his cozy relationship with Russian President Putin) President-select Trump is dismissing the allegations, telling the press that “it’s time for our country to move on to bigger and better things.”
He has allies in Congress as well. According to GOP Senator Lindsey Graham, he and all of his Senate colleagues – except for one – believe that Russian operatives did indeed interfere in US elections, and are calling for a full-scale investigation. However, that exception is Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell who is stonewalling such efforts. He admits that “there’s no question that the Russians were messing around in our elections,” acknowledging it as “a serious issue,” but wants to limit the inquiry to the Senate Intelligence Committee.
In the House of Representatives, Speaker Paul Ryan simply wants the whole affair to disappear.
Meanwhile, the lame duck Obama Administration has gone forward with retaliatory measures, which include sanctions against both individuals as well as Russian government agencies suspected of involvement. Since President Obama’s actions are executive ones, they can be rescinded by Trump once he takes office in January. However, those actions could make things awkward and difficult for Obama’s successor – particularly if US electoral systems are declared “critical infrastructure.”
According to a senior administration official, the objective is “to make sure that we have as much of the record public or communicated to Congress in a form that would be difficult to simply walk back.”
Although Trump is understandably reluctant to bite the hand that allegedly fed him, he said, “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.”
So far, the Obama Administration has issued sanctions against two Russian intelligence agencies (the GRU and the Federal Security Service, successor to the KGB), three private companies that allegedly aided and abetted the actions in question, and four individuals. In addition, 35 Russian operatives have been expelled from the US, and a number of Russian-owned facilities in Maryland and New York will be closed down.
In the meantime, Moscow denies any involvement and is threatening retaliation of its own. In an official statement, Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov said, “I cannot say now what the response will be, although – as we know – there is no alternative here to the principle of reciprocity.”
There is actually more to it than alleged Russian manipulation of US elections. This past summer, a diplomat was assaulted at the US embassy in Moscow by a Russian soldier as he attempted to enter the building. In retaliation for that incident, Washington ordered two Russian diplomats to leave the country.
According to the State Department, the Russian government also released sensitive personal information about US diplomats, compromising their safety – and has refused to institute security upgrades to the US consulate in St. Petersburg.
It appears that the “Cold War” is back. Whether or not the allegations prove true (President Obama says he will present the evidence next week), there is one cheering aspect of the entire affair: it pits a GOP-controlled Congress against a President-elect who is already hugely unpopular before he even takes office.
Hopefully, this will not be the last time the GOP wolves turn on their pack leader – and the rest of us can sit back and enjoy the spectacle while the “Trump Revolution” eats its own. That is, if Trump hasn’t sent off nuclear weapons or began a cold war in earnest with Russia.