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National Security & Defense

Putin to Washington: I Bite

From the first Morning Jolt of the week:

Putin Delivers ‘Biting’ Response to New Sanctions from Washington

Kind of an odd twist if you believe Russia hacked the election in order to bring Donald Trump and Republicans to power, so that they could turn the United States into a compliant vassal state…

The White House said on Friday night that President Trump would sign legislation imposing sweeping sanctions against Russia and curtailing his own power to lift them by himself, bowing to the near-universal bipartisan will of Congress at the risk of escalating tension with Moscow.

Unsurprisingly, Russia retaliated:

President Vladimir V. Putin announced Sunday that the American diplomatic mission in Russia must reduce its staff by 755 employees, an aggressive response to new American sanctions that seemed ripped right from the Cold War playbook and sure to increase tensions between the two capitals.

“We waited for quite a long time that, perhaps, something will change for the better, we held out hope that the situation would somehow change,” Mr. Putin said in an interview on state-run Rossiya 1 television, which published a Russian-language transcript on its website. “But, judging by everything, if it changes, it will not be soon.”

Mr. Putin said the staff reduction was meant to cause real discomfort for Washington and its representatives in Moscow.

“Over 1,000 employees — diplomats and technical workers — worked and continue to work today in Russia; 755 will have to stop this activity,” he said.

“That is biting,” Mr. Putin added.

…Although the initial news alerts in Russia said that Mr. Putin had ordered 755 Americans out of the country, he had actually ordered an overall staff reduction. Part of the confusion stemmed from the fact that Mr. Putin used a Russian verb that can mean to “pack up,” when referring to his action.

In making the initial announcement on Friday, Russia said that the American diplomatic staff would have to be reduced to 455, matching the number of Russians employed at diplomatic missions in the United States. Russia also seized two diplomatic compounds, a warehouse and a bucolic enclave used for barbecues, which mirrored the United States’ seizing of two country estates in December that it said were used for espionage.

Hey, how about we give them back one or both of the country estates, but load them up with hidden listening devices before we give them back?

More broadly, it’s time for lawmakers, particularly Democrats still enraged about the presidential election, to decide just how much they’re willing to escalate in their responses to Moscow. Do we want to push them further, or do we think they’ve gotten the message? The Russians have shrewdly gotten themselves involved in several corners of the world where we have ongoing interests: Syria, North Korea, Venezuela, and Afghanistan, putting themselves in a position to play a helpful role or a hindering one.

It’s possible that the imposition of new sanctions by overwhelming majorities — 419-3 in the House of Representatives, 98-2 in the Senate — will teach Russia that interfering in American politics is not worth the risk. The irony was that up until recently, the Democrats were seen as the more Russia-friendly party — “The 1980s are calling to ask for their foreign policy back! The Cold War’s been over for 20 years!” — and now both parties are fairly hostile to Russia — if not for the election, than for aggression in Ukraine, taking over Crimea, shooting down airliners, et cetera.

The Russians will never admit their role in meddling in our elections. So if a confession is out of the question, when do we feel like they’ve suffered sufficient consequences? What constitutes “winning” to us?

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