U.S. Russia Relations: Putin Sends 35 U.S. Diplomats Home In Retaliation To Obama Ejecting Same Number Of Russian Diplomats

Russia is planning to eject 35 United States diplomats as a retaliation to a similar move by U.S. President Barack Obama, the Guardian reports. The United States had expelled 35 Russian diplomats earlier as a retaliation over Russia’s alleged backing of the Democratic email hacks aimed at interfering the 2016 election campaign.

U.S. Russia relations Russian President Vladimir Putin & U.S. President Barack Obama. [Image by Alexei Druzhinin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool/AP Images]

Russian Foreign Minister Segei Lavrov, in a televised meeting with President Putin on Friday, explained the tit-for-tat move.

“We can’t, of course, leave such steps without a response. Reciprocity is a law of diplomacy and international relations.”

Obama had spoken of his decision in a statement where he claimed that the 35 expelled Russian diplomats were actually intelligence operatives working undercover. The U.S. has also closed two Russian compounds in Maryland and New York, which it claims were being used for “intelligence-related purposes.” Russia, in response, has banned the U.S. from using a recreational site outside of Moscow and a warehouse in the city.

Russia has been denying that they were behind the cyber-attacks from the very beginning. But to back Obama’s decision, the FBI and Homeland Security Department released a report showing technical evidence that Russia was in fact behind the attacks as part of a project called “Grizzly Steppe.”

Obama’s decision has put President-elect Donald Trump on a spot. Reverting these decisions would put him at odds with the Intelligence agencies and with Republicans in congress who support these sanctions on Russia. And going along with the decision would put him at odds with Putin and Russia, who he has claimed he wants to work closer with. Trump is only a month from being inaugurated as U.S. President.

President Obama had warned last week that the U.S. would be retaliating against Russia after reports confirmed that they were actively involved in hacking the Democratic emails during the election. It was concluded by intelligence officials that the hacking was a clear attempt to influence the results of the election in favor of President-elect Donald Trump.

The president, however, also spoke last Friday about how the U.S. is more vulnerable to cyber attacks compared to Russia.

“Our economy is more digitized, it’s more vulnerable, partly because we’re a wealthier nation, and we’re more wired than other nations.”

US Russia Cyber Warfare The U.S. and Russia could be on the brink of an open cyber war. [Image by Profit_Image/Shutterstock]

Experts such as Austin Berglas, a former FBI agent turned cyber-security consultant at K2 Intelligence, also believe that the United States being a much more digitized society than Russia is more vulnerable to cyber attacks on critical infrastructure. Some experts, however, disagree with President Obama, pointing out that even though the United States is much more dependent on the internet, Russia is the weaker and more unstable country, something that could be advantageous to the U.S. Michael Hayden, former CIA director, points out how the U.S. could provide Russian citizens with software that can make it easier for them to speak against their government. Kenneth Geers, of NATO’s Cyber Center, agrees.

“Dictators may win cyber battles, but they will lose cyber wars.”

Jason Healey, a Columbia University scholar, calls the election hacking one of the most serious kinds of conflict we’ve ever come across. And he doesn’t think the U.S.’s diplomatic tactics or sanctions against Russia are doing it any help.

“It’s clear Putin does not care about sanctions or other diplomatic means we might use to get him to back down.”

The U.S. already maintains a strict sanction against Russia, and if it were to seek additional sanctions, Laura Galante, director of global Intelligence for FireEye, believes that Russia could start targeting American businesses as well. She believes that the Russians could hack “U.S. businesses and executives for reputation damage,” comparing the ramifications to the damages done to the Democratic Party during the election.

Some experts such as former NSA Computer Scientist, Dave Aitel, recommend that the only way to get the Russians to back down would be for the U.S. to show an aggressive response.

“Let’s turn off all the lights in Moscow, then turn them back on five minutes later. And do that every day at a certain hour. It’s scary with no collateral damage.”

Others have suggested a quieter response — the U.S. target the hackers and shuts down their operation.

Will tensions keep escalating between the two super-powers? For the sake of the world and humanity, let’s hope not.

[Feature Image by Nikolay Androsov/Shutterstock]