The Obama administration has adopted stiff new sanctions against Russia aimed at its top intelligence services and officials in response to Moscow's alleged use of cyberattacks aimed at interfering with November's presidential election.
The targets of the sanctions include Russian government intelligence entities, including the Federal Security Service and the Main Intelligence Directorate, three companies and six individuals.
Among the individuals are top officials from the Main Intelligence Directorate, or GRU, and hackers already on the Federal Bureau of Investigation's most-wanted list.
The State Department has expelled 35 Russian diplomats from the Russian Embassy in Washington and the Russian Consulate in San Francisco on Thursday. The officials and their families were given 72 hours to leave the US.
The State Department also notified Russia that as of Friday Russia would be denied access to two Russian government-owned compounds—one in Maryland and one in New York.
President Barack Obama amended an executive order to allow for the sanctions on individuals and entities the US determines “to be responsible for tampering, altering or causing the misappropriation of information with the purpose or effect of interfering with or undermining election processes or institutions.”
In a statement, Mr Obama says: “These data theft and disclosure activities could only have been directed by the highest levels of the Russian government.”
Russia has denied it was involved with the hacks.
Mr Obama had promised to retaliate against Russia after US intelligence agencies determined that Russia hacked the Democratic National Committee and the email account of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta.
Russia's response; and Syrian ceasefire
The Kremlin describes the sanctions as “a display of the unpredictability and…aggressive foreign policy” of the Obama administration and promises to respond by causing “considerable discomfort in the same areas."
Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters the White House had two aims: “To ruin once and for all Russian-American relations, which were already at rock bottom and, apparently, to strike a blow against the foreign-policy plans of the future administration and the new US president [Donald Trump].”
Mr Peskov says there's no hurry to respond but Russian President Vladimir Putin will formulate Russia’s reaction.
“The principle of reciprocity applies here absolutely without alternative,” Mr Peskov says.
Meanwhile, Mr Putin has announced a diplomatic coup with the Syrian government and nine opposition rebel groups agreeing to a ceasefire in the long-running civil war.
In his announcement, Mr Putin said operations by the Syrian armed forces will cease at midnight local time and the two sides had also agreed to enter peace talks.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said earlier that Russia and Turkey would be guarantors to the agreement.
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