Obama Orders Sanctions On Russia. But Why Now?

Today, while on vacation in Hawaii, President Obama announced mild sanctions against Russia, which he attributed to Russia’s alleged meddling in the U.S. presidential election, and also to unspecified harassment of U.S. diplomats. The Associated Press reports:

In a sweeping response to election hacking and other meddlesome behavior, President Barack Obama on Thursday sanctioned Russian intelligence services and their top officials, kicked out 35 Russian officials and closed down two Russian-owned compounds in the U.S.

The press uses the phrase “election hacking” deliberately, I suspect, to convey the false impression that Russia somehow altered vote totals in Donald Trump’s favor. No such claim has been made. “Election hacking” refers to someone’s breaking into the Democratic National Committee’s email system, and possibly into Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s emails, although the reporting on that intrusion is not clear.

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.

The Obama administration insists that Russia’s government was behind the DNC intrusion, but acknowledges that those who actually carried out the operation were not Russian government employees. Rather, the Fancy Bear group is said to be “affiliated with the GRU.” The administration says it will publish a report before Obama leaves office that will detail the evidence against Vladimir Putin’s administration. Until then, there is no way to evaluate the reliability of the claim that Russia’s government was involved.

But let’s assume it was. This is the question I haven’t seen the press corps ask; needless to say, the administration hasn’t answered it. Why didn’t Obama impose sanctions on Russia in October 2014, when, by the administration’s own account, the Russian government hacked into both the White House’s and the State Department’s computers? This was a much more serious infraction than invading Debbie Wasserman-Schultz’s emails. Yet it drew zero response from Obama, who seemed more interested in covering up an embarrassing episode than in punishing the Russians.

Given that history, it is hard to disagree with Russian spokesman Dmitry Peskov, who said:

We think that such steps by a U.S. administration that has three weeks left to work are aimed at two things: to further harm Russian-American ties, which are at a low point as it is, as well as, obviously, to deal a blow to the foreign policy plans of the incoming administration of the president-elect.

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