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New US sanctions on Russia could complicate the Trump administration’s relations with the Kremlin, as the president-elect seeks to warm relations while other US officials insist on harsh punishments for election meddling.
Boris Zilberman, a Russia expert at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, said increased sanctions from the US are “clearly … meant to throw a wrench into next [administration’s] dealings with Moscow.”
While President-elect Donald Trump has seemed to cozy up to Russia, the current administration’s dealings with the country have deteriorated. And politicians in Congress might not be so willing to strengthen ties with the Kremlin in light of accusations of Russia hacking the US.
“Practically speaking, [Trump] is likely to face internal administration pressures as well as pressures from Republicans on Capitol Hill who would actually like to do more to counter Russia,” Zilberman told Business Insider in an email. “That is where the fight will likely be.”
President Barack Obama issued new sanctions against Russia on Thursday, calling Russia’s “malicious cyber-enabled activities” a “national emergency” aimed at undermining “democratic processes.”
“All Americans should be alarmed by Russia’s actions,” Obama said in a statement, noting that Russia’s “data theft and disclosure activities could only have been directed by the highest levels of the Russian government.”
Obama altered an executive order he issued in April 2015 that allows the US to retaliate against cyberattacks to include those “interfering with or undermining election processes or institutions.”
The updated executive order authorized Obama to sanction nine entities and individuals linked to GRU, Russia’s largest foreign intelligence agency, and FSB, Russia’s primary security agency.
Since the sanctions were issued via executive order, Trump could in theory revoke them.
“An executive order is not codified in law so in theory, whether on Russia or Iran, an incoming administration can with relative technical ease, roll back a previous administrations executive order (such as this one),” Zilberman said.
Obama also ordered that 35 Russian diplomats from the Russian Embassy in Washington and the Russian Consulate in San Francisco be ejected from the United States in response to what he said was Russian harassment of American diplomats in Moscow.
Other US diplomats are now likely to face increased harassment from Russia as retaliation.
“Moscow is likely to step up harassment of US diplomats in Russia and potentially expel some of our diplomats as well,” Zilberman said. “[The] Kremlin spokesman has already discussed the theory of reciprocal moves in such instances.”
Russia’s foreign ministry issued a statement Thursday indicating coming retaliation, saying that “if Washington takes new hostile steps, it will receive an answer.”
Geopolitical expert and Eurasia Group President Ian Bremmer said on Twitter that US/Russia relations are at their “lowest point since [the] early 80s.”
Bremmer echoed Zilberman’s assessment of differences between the incoming administration and Congress on Russia.
“Republicans in Congress will break with Trump on Putin,” Bremmer tweeted. “But it won’t be a priority issue for most.”
Bremmer said Trump needs address in some way Russia’s interference in the US election. US intelligence agencies have said Russian hackers meddled in the election to help Trump win the White House.
“Trump needs to request a formal brief on Russia hacks from US intelligence directors,” Bremmer tweeted. ” And then make an informed policy statement.”
Natasha Bertrand contributed to this report.