USA Foreign Policy

In response to hacking, Obama orders 35 Russian diplomats kicked out of US

Obama ordered sanctions on Russian intelligence services and their top officials, kicked out 35 Russian officials and shuttered two Russian-owned compounds in the United States.

President Barack Obama speaks during a Dec. 16 news conference at the White House in Washington. Obama has imposed sanctions on Russian officials and intelligence services in retaliation for Russia's interference in the U.S. presidential election by hacking American political sites and email accounts.
AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais) | Caption
  • Tami Abdollah and Josh Lederman
    Associated Press

In a sweeping response to election hacking, President Barack Obama on Thursday sanctioned Russian intelligence services and their top officials, kicked out 35 Russian officials and shuttered two Russian-owned compounds in the United States. It was the strongest action the Obama administration has taken to date to retaliate for a cyberattack.

"All Americans should be alarmed by Russia's actions," Obama said in a statement released while he was vacationing in Hawaii. He added: "Such activities have consequences."

Obama ordered sanctions against two Russian intelligence services, the GRU and the FSB, plus companies which the U.S. says support the GRU. The cybersecurity firm hired by the Democratic National Committee to investigate theft of its emails determined earlier this year the hacking came from the Fancy Bear group, believed to be affiliated with the GRU, Russia's military intelligence agency.

The president also sanctioned Lt. Gen. Korobov, the head of GRU, and three of his deputies. Other individuals sanctioned include Alexei Belan and Yevgeny Bogachev, two Russian nationals who have been wanted by the FBI for cyber crimes for years.

Obama said the hacking of the DNC "could only have been directed by the highest levels of the Russian government," a contention the U.S. has used to suggest Russian President Vladimir Putin was personally involved.

Although the White House announced at the same time it was kicking out Russian officials and closing facilities, it said those were responses to other troubling Russian behavior: harassment of U.S. diplomats by Russian personnel and police.

The 35 Russian diplomats being kicked out are intelligence operatives, Obama said. The State Department said they were being declared "persona non grata," and they were given 72 hours to leave the country.

The two compounds being closed down are recreational facilities owned by Russia's government, one in Maryland and one in New York, the U.S. said. The White House said Russia had been notified that Russia would be denied access to the sites starting noon on Friday.

Some members of Congress, including Republicans, have called for hearings into the DNC hacking.  Former secretary of State Henry Kissinger indicated on CBS’ “Face the Nation” earlier this month that the US should respond in kind to Russian hacking. "Since the Soviet Union fell, Kissinger, now 93, has advocated bridge building between Washington and Moscow, a shift away from the adversarial attitude he admitted he had towards the Kremlin when he was secretary of State," The Christian Science Monitor reported. Kissinger went on to say that the US needs a better understanding of Russia, and Putin.

“[Putin] is a cold calculator of the Russian national interest, as he conceives it, and which he believes, probably correctly, has some very unique features,” said Kissinger.  “For him, the question of Russian identity is very crucial. Because as a result of the collapse of communism, Russia has lost about 300 years of its history. And so that the question of ‘What is Russia?’ looms very large in their mind. And that’s a problem we have never had.”

Russian officials have denied the Obama administration's accusation that the Russian government was involved at the highest levels in trying to influence the U.S. presidential election. U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that Russia's goal was to help Donald Trump win — an assessment Trump has dismissed as ridiculous.

The move puts the president-elect in the position of having to decide whether to roll back the measures once in office.

Moscow hopes that the new sanctions may be lifted by the incoming Trump administration, the Russian Foreign Ministry’s special envoy Andrey Krutskikh said on Thursday, reported RT.com, a government-funded Russian news outlet set up to improve the country's image abroad.

Mr. Krutskikh added that, given Trump’s promise to reverse up to 70 percent of Obama’s executive orders, “the latest restrictions that hamper our cooperation are very likely to be part of those 70 percent,” as cited by RIA Novosti.

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Abdollah reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Nataliya Vasilyeva in Moscow contributed to this report.