Sanctions: Two Russian intelligence services (the GRU and the FSB); four individual officers of the GRU; and three companies face punitive measures.
Expelled: 35 Russian government officials from the Russian Embassy in Washington, D.C., and the Russian Consulate in San Francisco are declared “persona non grata.”
Prohibited: As of noon Friday, Russian access will be denied to two Russian government-owned compounds – one in Maryland and one in New York.
President Barack Obama’s administration announced sweeping new measures against Russia on Thursday in retaliation for what U.S. officials have characterized as interference in this fall’s presidential election, ordering the expulsion of Russian “intelligence operatives” and slapping new sanctions on state agencies and individuals suspected in the hacks of U.S. computer systems.
The response, unveiled just weeks before Obama leaves office, culminates months of internal debate over how to react to Russia’s election-year provocations. In recent months, the FBI and CIA have concluded that Russia intervened repeatedly in the 2016 election, leaking damaging information in an attempt to undermine the electoral process and help Donald Trump take the White House.
Because Thursday’s announcement is an executive action, it can be undone by the next administration. But Obama’s last-minute measures put pressure on Trump, who has largely waved off the allegations against Russia, to make a decision about whether to keep the punitive measures in place.
In a statement issued by his transition office late Thursday, Trump was noncommittal, saying, “It’s time for our country to move on to bigger and better things.”
“Nevertheless,” he said, “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 updated on the facts of this situation.”
Taken together, the sanctions and expulsions announced Thursday were the most far-reaching U.S. response to Russian activities since the end of the Cold War, and the most specific related to Russian hacking. The administration also released a listing of addresses of computers linked to the Russian
cyberattacks and samples of malware inserted into U.S. systems.
Several lawmakers have called on the administration for months to respond, saying that tougher measures need to be taken to punish Russia. The White House resisted acting ahead of the election for fear of appearing partisan.
Obama, who had promised a tough U.S. response, said the new actions were “a necessary and appropriate response to efforts to harm U.S. interests.” He said Americans should be “alarmed” by an array of Russian moves, including interference in the election and harassment of U.S. diplomats overseas.
“Such activities have consequences,” the president said in a statement.
The new measures include sanctions on two Russian intelligence agencies, three companies that are believed to have provided support for government cyberoperations, and four Russian cyber officials. The two agencies named are the GRU, Russia’s military spy service, and the FSB, the civilian spy agency that grew out of the KGB.
The administration has also ordered 35 Russian operatives to leave the United States and will shut down Russian-owned facilities on Maryland’s Eastern Shore and on Long Island in New York believed to have been used for intelligence purposes.
State Department spokesperson Mark Toner said the diplomatic retaliation was partly a response to Russian provocations against American personnel in Russia, including “arbitrary police stops, physical assault, and the broadcast on State TV of personal details about our personnel that put them at risk.”
In June, a senior U.S. diplomat was attacked by a Russian soldier at the doorway to the U.S. embassy as he tried to enter. That incident, circulated on video, resulted in the earlier expulsion of two Russian diplomats from Washington.
Obama suggested Thursday that the United States may undertake covert activity in response to Russian activities. Officials gave no details. The Treasury Department also designated two Russian hackers, Evgeny Bogachev and Aleksey Belan, for criminal cyber activities involving U.S. firms and unrelated to the election hacks.
Trump has called on the Obama administration to present proof of Russian hacking. Speaking Thursday before the reprisal announcement, Sean Spicer, the incoming White House press secretary, said Trump’s views on the hacking allegations could change if more solid evidence emerges that Russia was responsible.
“If the United States has clear proof of anyone interfering with our elections, we should make that known,” Spicer said, adding, “Right now we need to see further facts.”
U.S. officials say they have been refining for months their assessment of the attacks, in which they say a Russian military intelligence agency hacked the Democratic National Committee and stole emails that were later released by WikiLeaks. Emails hacked from the account of John Podesta, who chaired Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, also were made public. State electoral systems were also targeted, but administration officials said Thursday, as they have in the past, that they have no evidence the actual voting process was interfered with on Election Day.
In a call with reporters, U.S. officials said they chose to announce the new measures before the end of Obama’s term in an attempt to educate Americans about Russian activities and to deter future intrusions.
“There’s every reason to believe Russia will interfere with future U.S. elections and future elections around the world,” said one senior official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the record.
The Obama administration also released a document providing some details about the cyber operation U.S. officials have labeled “Grizzly Steppe,” including a list of names the hackers used.
Congressional Republicans welcomed the crackdown but said it was overdue.
“It is an appropriate way to end eight years of failed policy with Russia,” House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said in a statement.