Some say revenge is a dish best served cold. When it comes to alleged electoral interference by Russia, the White House apparently thinks it’s also best served largely symbolically.
On Thursday, President Obama announced several emblematic measures against Russia for “cyber operations aimed at the U.S. election,” including expelling 35 Russian intelligence operatives from the United States, sanctioning two of the country’s security agencies and releasing a declassified report detailing malicious cyber activity by Russian actors.
It’s unclear, however, how much the White House’s actions will deter future attacks as they impose few serious costs on Russia. In a possible acknowledgement of this, Obama hinted the sanctions “are not the sum total of our response” and vowed to “take a variety of actions at a time and place of our choosing, some of which will not be publicized” in his announcement.
For months, the White House has threatened a “proportional” response to Russia’s alleged hacks of Democratic figures and institutions during this year’s election. Finally coming weeks after the election itself due to fears of Russian retaliation, Obama aides told The New York Times that the sanctions may be too little, too late.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry, for its part, condemned the measures as “one last blow to relations” by the outgoing Obama administration and vowed “if Washington takes new hostile steps, it will receive an answer.”
“Frankly speaking, we are tired of lies about Russian hackers that continue to be spread in the United States from the very top,” said spokesperson Maria Zakharova in a statement. “The Obama administration launched this misinformation half a year ago in a bid to play up to the required nominee at the November presidential election and, having failed to achieve the desired effect, has been trying to justify its failure by taking it out with a vengeance on Russian-US relations.”
President-elect Donald Trump has repeatedly dismissed suggestions of Russian interference, even questioning the findings of the American intelligence community. By publicly releasing a joint analysis report by the FBI and Homeland Security pointing the figure at Russia, Obama will force Trump to directly refute their claims—and the suspicions of his fellow Republicans—if he wishes to lift the sanctions once in office.
Asked about Russian hacking and possible sanctions on Wednesday, however, Trump only noted “I think that computers have complicated lives very greatly.”
“I think we ought to get on with our lives,” said Trump. “The whole age of computer has made it so nobody knows exactly what’s going on.”
UPDATE 6:15 pm: In a statement, President-elect Donald Trump responded to news of the sanctions on Thursday by repeating his call to simply “move on.”
“It’s time for our country to move on to bigger and better things,” said Trump. “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 updates on the facts of the situation.”