Obama warns action against Russia

Published: December 16, 2016 - 18:34 Updated: August 8, 2017 - 15:39

The outgoing president threatens a retaliatory strike, but that may be unlikely given the little time he has left and Trump’s affinity for Putin


Outgoing President Barack Obama has said that he will take action against Russia for trying to impact the integrity of the 2016 Presidential elections. The President was clear in stating that from the vantage point of long-term foreign policy it is necessary that some punitive measures are imposed on Russia for its meddling in the US elections. He said that retaliatory action will be taken at a time and place of his choosing and that some of this might be explicit and some of it will be covert.

It’s no secret in the intelligence community that everyone is trying to gather information on everyone else. There is a difference between that and activating intelligence that is intentionally designed to influence elections in supposedly the most democratic nation of them all. The United States of America also has a lot at stake if a cyber war were to take place. There is a definite asymmetry in the level of digitisation and vulnerabilities that the US has in comparison to adversaries like China and Russia.

There is also the conundrum that any expedient measure that Obama takes against Russia might not be followed up once President-elect Donald Trump takes charge on January 20. Whatever the failings of the Democratic party might be, prominent among them their concerted effort to scuttle Bernie Sanders’ Democratic primary efforts, the party has a unified stance on Russia. This is in sharp contrast to Republicans who have had a tendency to flip-flop based on what is politically expedient. For much of Obama’s eight-year long tenure, he was browbeaten by Republican officials for being too soft on Russia. Surprisingly, now 37 percent of Republican policymakers feel that Putin is a good guy. Republicans like Dana Rohrabacher have for long vocalised rationalisations about Russia’s behaviour in Syria.

Inoculating the US against Putin’s influence might be a tough task once Trump assumes office. Trump has time and again voiced his admiration for the Russian President. Trump has also said that he would consider recognising Crimea as part of Russia. Rex Tillerson who he has tapped for Secretary of the State has close ties to Putin and even received an Order of Friendship award from the Kremlin. The reverence for Putin is not likely to abate anytime soon once the Trump administration comes into play.

Russia is likely to reciprocate Trump’s affectionate overtures as well. Russian state media has been full of praise for Trump and Tillerson. Given these facts, it is likely that Obama’s threat was just a threat. Any substantial action against Moscow is unlikely given the minuscule amount of time that Obama has in office.