Foreign ministry spokeswoman attacks ‘losers’ of outgoing Obama administration and says plans will be announced on Friday
Russia is planning an immediate response to the US decision to kick 35 Russian diplomats out of the country with its own “counter-measures”.
The foreign ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, wrote on Facebook overnight that Russia would announce its own measures during the day. She launched a stinging attack on the outgoing Obama administration, which she called “foreign policy losers”.
US intelligence services believe Russia ordered cyber-attacks on the Democratic National Committee (DNC), Hillary Clinton’s campaign and other political organisations in an attempt to influence the election in favour of the Republican candidate, Donald Trump.
The US response, announced on Thursday, involved the sanctioning of Russia’s GRU and FSB intelligence services, individuals and companies linked to them, and the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats the US believes are engaging in espionage. They were given 72 hours to leave the country. Obama said Americans should “be alarmed by Russia’s actions”. He added that more actions would be taken, “some of which will not be publicised”.
Diplomatic expulsions are normally met with reciprocal action. In 2001, the George W Bush administration kicked out ۵۱ Russian diplomats it said were spies. Russia responded by telling 50 US diplomats to leave Russia.
In this case, however, Moscow may pause for thought. With Trump, who has spoken positively about Russia and Vladimir Putin, just three weeks away from the White House, Russia may feel it is inadvisable to expel 35 US diplomats. Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said Russia would take into account the fact that Trump would soon replace Barack Obama as it drafted its response.
Russian authorities on Thursday ordered that the Anglo-American School of Moscow be closed, according to CNN, citing a US official briefed on the matter. The school serves children of US, British and Canadian embassy personnel, and the move would make a Russian posting difficult for US diplomats with families. There was no official confirmation of the move, which may be in retaliation for the US closing two recreational facilities run by the Russian government that it said were used for espionage.
Russia, which has repeatedly denied the hacking allegations, reacted furiously to Obama’s measures. Zakharova wrote: “The people who have spent eight years in the White House are not an administration, they are a group of foreign policy losers, embittered and short-sighted. Today, Obama officially proved this.”
Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of the international affairs committee in the upper house of the Russian parliament, was quoted by the RIA news agency as saying the US move represented “the death throes of political corpses”.
The Twitter feed of the Russian embassy in London, meanwhile, called the Obama administration “hapless” and attached a picture of a duck with the word “lame” emblazoned across it.
A Russian diplomatic source told Interfax that the US move was “completely unexpected” and many of the diplomats had been preparing to celebrate New Year’s Eve, the biggest Russian holiday. Many were struggling to find tickets back to Russia, as planes were full because of the holiday season, the source said.
On Thursday, Trump, who has previously dismissed reports of Russian interference in the election, said: “It’s time for our country to move on to bigger and better things.”
He added, however, that “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”.
In a conference call with reporters, senior White House officials said the president-elect’s transition team had been informed of the sanctions before they were announced on Thursday. Trump and Obama spoke on Wednesday, they said.
The officials added that the actions were a necessary response to “very disturbing Russian threats to US national security”.
“There has to be a cost and a consequence for what Russia has done,” a senior administration official said. “It is in a extraordinary step for them to interfere in the democratic process here in the United States of America. There needs to be a price for that.”