The United States has expelled 35 Russian spies in response to Russia’s alleged interference in last month’s presidential election, further escalating tensions between the countries.
The US state department has declared 35 diplomatic intelligence officials from the Russian embassy in Washington DC and the consulate in San Francisco "persona non grata," giving them and their families 72 hours to leave the country.
President Barack Obama has also announced the closing of two Russian compounds, in New York and Maryland, used by the Russian officials for intelligence-gathering, from noon on Friday.
"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," President Obama said in a statement.
"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."
Obama accused Russia of "aggressive harassment," saying "all Americans should be alarmed by Russia’s actions." He believes that hacking "could only have been directed by the highest levels of the Russian government."
The move follows calls from senior US senators to sanction Russian diplomats who are believed to have played a role in the last month’s election-hacking against the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
Russia Tweeted A Duck Meme In Response
Of course, Russia—who has denied any involvement and called the decision "ungrounded"—is not happy with the decision in the dying days of the Obama administration.
After Obama had announced sanctions against the Russian diplomats on Thursday, the Russian Embassy in London tweeted a photo of a duckling with the word "Lame" over it.
The photo was posted in an obvious reference to Obama as he nears the end of his "lame duck" period in White house after almost eight years as US president.
Donald Trump — It’s time for our country to move on
Ultimately, it depends on President-elect Donald Trump, who will take over from President Obama next month, if he carries the new sanctions against the Russian diplomats.
However, Trump has dismissed the hacking claims as "ridiculous" and the US threat to increase sanctions against Russia and said Americans should "get on with our lives," adding that "it’s time for our country to move on to bigger and better things," instead of speculating over the impact Russia had on last month’s election.
"Nevertheless, in the interest of our country and its great people, I will meet with leaders of the intelligence community next week to be updated on the facts of this situation," Trump told reporters Thursday.
The US intelligence agencies have described the Russian hacking as a "decade-long campaign," which includes spear phishing; campaigns targeting government organizations, and critical infrastructures like think-tanks, universities, political organizations, and corporations; theft of information from these agencies; and public release of stolen information.
Several US agencies, including the CIA and FBI, have concluded that the emails stolen from Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager and Democratic National Committee servers were released during the 2016 presidential election by Wikileaks to cause damage to Clinton.
Update — Russia Plans to expel 35 US Diplomats in tit-for-tat response
Russian Foreign Ministry has announced plans to expel 35 US diplomats in a tit-for-tat response to US decision over allegations of hacking the US presidential election.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov proposed President Putin to kick out the same number of diplomats, 31 staff members from the US Embassy in Moscow and 4 from the consulate in St Petersburg.