Monday, January 16, 2017

About to leave office Obama sanctions 5 more Russians

The Obama administration announced a new round of sanctions against five Russian officials. Officials admit that technically the sanctions are not directly related to Russian alleged hacking of the recent presidential election.

The timing makes it clear that the sanctions are part of ongoing "retaliation". Earlier Obama expelled 35 Russian diplomats and closed down two diplomatic compounds in New York and Maryland. Donald Trump praised Putin for not reacting in a tit-for-tat fashion.
Kellyanne Conway, a top Trump aide, noted that a New York Times article had suggested that Obama was trying to "box-in" Trump and make it more difficult to execute his policy of pursuing better relations with Russia. Conway said:I will tell you that even those who are sympathetic to President Obama on most issues are saying that part of the reason he did this today was to quote 'box in' President-elect Trump. That would be very unfortunate if politics were the motivating factor here. We can't help but think that's often true. That is not the way that peaceful exchanges work in this democracy."
As well as the recent sanctions, Obama is moving tanks along with other equipment into Germany along with 3,500 troops. Operation Atlantic Resolve is aimed at protecting Eastern Europe against a possible Russian invasion.
When Trump takes office, he may rescind some of the moves against Russia but it may be politically damaging to try to do too much. Conway said that Trump could well "reconsider" any sanctions in the name of proportionality. This possibility may be one reason Putin did not engage in a strong response to Obama's move.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter has also been pushing for more anti-Russia action claiming that the alleged Russian hacking was an "aggressive attack against our very democracy". Senator Ben Cardin even claims that Russia attacked the U.S. as the hacking was not just interference but an act of war. The U.S. complaints, even if justified, are a case of the pot calling the kettle black. Dov Levin an expert on the subject at Carnegie Mellon University claims the United States has interfered in foreign elections more than 80 times from 1946 to 2000 but Levin did not count coups such as that in Iran in 1953 and Guatemala in 1954.
Those sanctioned include a senior law enforcement official close to President Putin, Alexander Bastrykin, head of Russia's main investigative agency. Bastrykin investigated the death of Russian whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky's in 2009. Although the investigation determined that Magnitsky died while in custody, he closed the case after claiming that there was no evidence of a crime. There are now 44 Russians subject to U.S. sanctions. Two of the others sanctioned today are said to be complicit in trying to cover up Magnitsky's death, and the U.K. blames the other two for the murder of a former Russian spy.
Dmitry Peskov, a Putin spokesperson, claims that the U.S. hacking accusations had no substance:"They are amateurish and are hardly worthy of the high professional standards of top intelligence agencies. We categorically rule out the possibility that Russian officials or official bodies could have been involved. We are tired of such accusations. This is beginning to remind us of a full-fledged witch hunt."
Trump will have his hands full trying to reverse these late Obama administration efforts to worsen relations with Russia.


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