Russian President Vladimir Putin, center, and ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson shake hands at a signing ceremony of an agreement between state-controlled Russian oil company Rosneft and ExxonMobil in Russia in 2012. (RIA-Novosti/Associated Press)
The Post reported President Obama on Thursday ordered narrowly focused sanctions on Russia:
The new measures include sanctions on two Russian intelligence agencies, three companies that are believed to have provided support for government cyber operations, 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.
Why the facilities were allowed to operate for as long as they did is unknown. There were no sector-wide sanctions or other measures (at least none publicly announced) that will inflict real pain on Russia for its attack on America’s election process.
In keeping with his refusal to concede Russia interfered with the election on his behalf and with his peculiar fondness for Russian President Vladimir Putin, President-elect Donald Trump issued a bizarre, entirely inappropriate statement more indicative of a teenager who has been told to take out the trash (eye-rolling and sighs included) than a president-elect who will be responsible for the nation’s security in three weeks: It is “time for the country to move on to bigger and better things,” he insisted. “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 updated on the facts of this situation.” Once again, his put-upon tone raises the uncomfortable prospect that he has some ulterior motive for siding with Putin over the consensus of our intelligence community. Should his national security nominees echo this attitude, the Senate should reject them. No one who fails to accept facts relevant to the defense of America and/or appears lackadaisical about defending its interests should be in high office.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking member Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.) sounded far more responsible and presidential than the president-elect. In a written statement, he urged his colleagues and Trump to take this as a serious “wake-up call, a political Pearl Harbor.” He rebuked Trump and vowed additional action:
Now is not the “time to get on with our lives,” but to take an appropriate response in line with the ongoing threat that Russia poses to our democracy and global security interests. I welcome and support the new sanctions announced by the administration today – it is a good start. Sanctions have been and will remain an important tool in the United States’ diplomatic arsenal to respond to attacks on our country and our allies and national security interests around the world.
It is not, however, sufficient. The executive branch has acted, but it is imperative the legislative branch now pick up the ball and move it forward. Congressional sanctions can complement and strengthen these new executive sanctions.
Therefore because of Russia’s attack on us, their destabilizing and murderous role in Syria, and their illegal annexation of Crimea and invasion of Ukraine, I continue to believe the United States must go further and that is why I am introducing two bills next month – the first which would establish an independent, nonpartisan commission to further examine the attack and Russian’s efforts to interfere in our election. The second bill will frame our policy on Russia to include comprehensive enhanced sanctions in response to Russia’s interference in our election and its ongoing aggression in Ukraine and Syria. The bill will also increase assistance to bolster democratic institutions across Europe.
Unlike Trump, a number of Republicans also vowed tougher action would be forthcoming. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), who sits on the Foreign Relations Committee, declared in a written statement: “Following the enforcement of the newly announced sanctions against Russia, the best path forward is the establishment of a permanent select committee on cybersecurity to not only investigate cyber issues, but also lead the charge on federal policy to keep pace with the evolving threat. It’s important that Congress has the most effective structure in place to provide oversight of the Administration’s cyber activities and strategy to deter and mitigate the cyber threat.” Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) jointly put out a terse statement: “The retaliatory measures announced by the Obama Administration today are long overdue. But ultimately, they are a small price for Russia to pay for its brazen attack on American democracy. We intend to lead the effort in the new Congress to impose stronger sanctions on Russia.” Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who has resisted calls for a select committee, nevertheless appeared determined to enact additional sanctions. “Sanctions against the Russian intelligence services are a good initial step, however late in coming,” he said in a statement. “As the next Congress reviews Russian actions against networks associated with the U.S. election, we must also work to ensure that any attack against the United States is met with an overwhelming response.”
Unfortunately, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, as is his style these days, sounded timid and passive, no doubt with an eye toward Putin cheerleader Trump. (“While today’s action by the administration is overdue, it is an appropriate way to end eight years of failed policy with Russia. And it serves as a prime example of this administration’s ineffective foreign policy that has left America weaker in the eyes of the world.”) There was no hint of further action.
This is a moment of truth, a time to reveal the truth about Russian interference but also for Republicans to demonstrate they will stand up for country over party and over their oblivious president-elect. Those who succumb to his plea to “move on” and who deny that Russia, as Mitt Romney predicted in 2012, is our “number one geopolitical foe,” will destroy their own credibility and hand a powerful weapon to Democrats. The latter, as Obama moves out of the White House, are demonstrating newfound toughness on Russia and resoluteness in defense of Israel, welcome signs that the party is returning to its Harry S. Truman/JFK/Scoop Jackson tradition. Now if only Republicans would act like Ronald Reagan, we will be in good hands.