US President Barack Obama has expelled 35 suspected Russian spies and sanctioned two intelligence services in retaliation for alleged interference in the recent presidential elections and harassment of US diplomatic personnel in Russia.
In one of his last acts as President, Obama issued a strongly worded statement saying the actions were taken after “repeated private and public warnings that we have issued to the Russian government,” and claimed that the Kremlin had violated “established international norms of behavior.”
“I have issued an executive order that provides additional authority for responding to certain cyber activity that seeks to interfere with or undermine our election processes and institutions, or those of our allies or partners. Using this new authority, I have sanctioned nine entities and individuals: the GRU and the FSB, two Russian intelligence services; four individual officers of the GRU; and three companies that provided material support to the GRU’s cyber operations. In addition, the Secretary of the Treasury is designating two Russian individuals for using cyber-enabled means to cause misappropriation of funds and personal identifying information. The State Department is also shutting down two Russian compounds, in Maryland and New York, used by Russian personnel for intelligence-related purposes, and is declaring ‘persona non grata’ 35 Russian intelligence operatives.”
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and FBI are also set to declassify information which will help cybersecurity professionals in the States “identify, detect, and disrupt” Russian cyber-attacks.
The move is a bold one but not completely out of the blue.
Tensions between the two former Cold War enemies have been rising after the DHS took the unprecedented step in October of directly blaming the Kremlin for interfering in the US presidential election, by hacking and releasing private Democratic party emails.
It’s unclear how long the current stand-off will last, although President Putin has decided not to respond in kind by expelling US diplomats from Russia, and incoming US President Donald Trump is known to be a supporter of the controversial leader.
He even claimed in a statement it’s time to “move on to bigger and better things.”
Many will argue Obama had nothing to lose given that the new President will be officially sworn in on 20 January.