In an unusually strong punishment, assisted by a new executive order issued Thursday, President Barack Obama gave himself extended authority to respond “to certain cyber activity” by Russia meant to “undermine” American “institutions.” Obama, in a statement, discussed his decision to sanction Russian Officers, companies, and intelligence services due to the country’s “cyber operations aimed at the U.S. election.” In addition to the sanctions, Mr. Obama announced the State Department is “shutting down” two Russian intelligence compounds and declaring 35 Intelligence Officers “persona non grata.” The President is also going to be taking steps that “will not be publicized” by the Administration. With the new actions, Obama has taken his toughest stance to-date against Russian aggression.
Putin has repeatedly claimed Russia did not hack the U.S. election and rejects the blame the current Administration seeks to place on his country. In his year-end press conference, the Russian President described the accusations as attacks from “losers” who are always looking “to accuse someone else” for their shortcomings.
So how will the Kremlin respond to Obama’s reprimands?
Comments made by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova suggest Russia will retaliate with measures equal to “new hostile steps” taken by Washington. According to Moscow, the President is only looking “to do something else” to worsen relations with Russia. The Russian Government isn’t mixing words on what it will do. In the coming day and days, there is a high likelihood Russia will expel U.S. diplomats and Officers from the country and increase cyber-attacks against America.
There is also the possibility Putin will rapidly increase Russian influence in the Middle East during Obama’s last days. If Putin continues to control the chaos in Syria and capitalizes on the recent ceasefire agreement orchestrated with Turkey, from which the U.S. was excluded, he could potentially influence Turkish leadership it is more suitable to work and partner with Russia instead of the U.S. and the European Union. A Putin-led Russia gaining that type of influence in that sphere of the world would be the biggest blunder of Barack Obama’s foreign diplomacy.