Critics say sanctions against Russia don't go far enough

Critics say sanctions against Russia don't go far enough
© Getty Images

The slate of retaliatory measures President Obama levied on Thursday against Russia is one of the strongest U.S. responses to a cyberattack in history — but lawmakers from both sides of the aisle are already pushing for more.

Sanctions targeting Russian intelligence agencies and officials are a largely symbolic move, critics say.

The targets of the sanctions are unlikely to travel to the U.S. or have any interaction with the U.S. financial system, making the economic bite of the measures limited.

Sens. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainThe Biden-Harris train wreck may have its savior: 2024 GOP nominee Donald Trump Kelly raises million in third quarter Legislative limbo — how low can they go? MORE (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSenators preview bill to stop tech giants from prioritizing their own products Democrats fret as longshot candidates pull money, attention Tim Scott takes in .3 million in third quarter MORE (R-S.C.) called the measures “a small price for Russia to pay” and promised to “lead the effort in the new Congress to impose stronger sanctions.”

The leading Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffSchiff: McCarthy 'will do whatever Trump tells him' if GOP wins back House Jan. 6 panel to pursue criminal contempt referral for Bannon Bannon's subpoena snub sets up big decision for Biden DOJ MORE (Calif.), said in a statement that “a broader array of sanctions may very well be necessary to deter Russian meddling in the future.”


“Sanctions on #Russia announced today merely symbolic. @POTUS should give classified briefing to Congress next week--& seek serious sanctions,” tweeted Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee.

The sanctions target two of Russia’s main intelligence organizations — the GRU and the FSB — four individual GRU officers and three companies that provided support to the GRU.

The four officers are senior-ranking officials, including the head of the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence agency.

Obama argued in a statement that the actions are "a necessary and appropriate response to efforts to harm U.S. interests in violation of established international norms of behavior."

A spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin called the new sanctions an example of President Obama's "unpredictable" and "aggressive foreign policy."

President-elect Donald TrumpDonald TrumpTrump criticizes Justice for restoring McCabe's benefits Biden: Those who defy Jan. 6 subpoenas should be prosecuted Hillicon Valley — Presented by LookingGlass — Hackers are making big money MORE could potentially soften the blow. It remains unclear whether the incoming administration will honor the sanctions announced Thursday. 

The sanctions were administered under authority designated by executive order — easily undone by a new president.

Trump has repeatedly denied any Russian involvement in the presidential election.

“I think we ought to get on with our lives,” Trump said Wednesday night when asked about imposing sanctions on Russia.

Obama’s decision to expel 35 Russian officials from the country could have more bite than the narrowly tailored sanctions.

Vladimir Dzhabarov, the deputy chairman of the foreign policy committee in the Russian Duma, told Russian news outlet Tass that "reciprocal steps" will be taken, adding, "The U.S. embassy in Moscow and, quite possibly, the consulates will be cut down to size as well.”

In a widely circulated tweet, the Russian Embassy in London specifically called the decision to expel the officials "Cold War deja vu."

"Everybody, incl [American] people, will be glad to see the last of this hapless Adm," the embassy tweeted.

The U.S. has levied a variety of punishments for cyberattacks carried out by nation states in the past — but Thursday's package was by far the most comprehensive public action taken to date. 

In 2014, the U.S. issued indictments for five People’s Liberation Army officers on hacking charges.
Earlier this year, the Department of Justice indicted seven Iranians over hacks of U.S. critical infrastructure. 
The U.S. also issued a slate of sanctions against North Korea after its attack on Sony Pictures — but critics have also characterized those measures as relatively mild. 

The president-elect was expected to respond to the sanctions Thursday evening, according to transition pool reports.