On Tuesday, White House spokesman Josh Earnest announced aboard Air Force One that President Obama was considering ‘proportional’ responses to a series of embarrassing and costly Russian hacks against the US Government and political parties.
“There are a range of responses that are available to the president and he will consider a response that is proportional,” Earnest said. “It is certainly possible that the president can choose response options that we never announce,” he said.
Announced options might include additional sanctions against specific Russian leaders. Earlier this year, in a bid to reign in human rights abuses in North Korea, the US Treasury Department froze the assets of Kim Jong-un and 10 other North Korean leaders. The Kim regime responded that the move was an ‘act of war’.
Sanctions have long been a favorite tool of American presidents. Most recent round of sanctions against Russia occurred on 01 September 2016 when the US Treasury Department targeted the assets of 37 individuals and organizations. Additional sanctions against Russian military leaders involved in hacking is likely to be one option on the table.
Russia’s economic problems stem in part from low oil prices, however, Western sanctions have significantly affected economic conditions. Leveraging worsening economic conditions against Putin seems like a very obvious option. Expect American diplomats to lobby European leaders to keep in place, and perhaps expand, the current sanctions against Russia.
But what should concern us more are the unannounced options that could include cyber retaliation. As US Cyber Command continues to come online into 2019, military units are expected to augment the offensive capabilities of the National Security Agency (NSA), which could add significant firepower to the US cyber arsenal.
Whatever his options are, Obama’s response is aimed at curbing Putin’s political theater that continually embarrasses the Obama administration. Russian hacking and data mining of US systems is a cornerstone of Russian intelligence activities and that’s not going to end. Putin’s most glaring vulnerability is his ability to finance the growth and modernization of his military. So far, the Russian military has largely been able to avoid budget cuts plaguing the rest of the Russian government. With oil prices that may soon be on the rise, Putin’s economic outlook is looking vaguely brighter. But there’s still room to run for Obama to threaten Russia’s gloomy economic conditions, which is why sanctions or some other form of financial or economic retaliation makes sense.
Photo via Matt B