Three weeks before leaving the Oval Office, Obama expelled 35 Russian diplomats and closed two Moscow-owned properties in the US over claims of election meddling. Counter-measures were expected.
“I invite all children of US diplomats accredited in Russia to the New Year and Christmas children’s parties in the Kremlin,” Russian President Vladimir Putin announced instead, capitalizing on the moment to show unexpected festive magnanimity.
Yet by that point Russia’s bogeyman role as the explanation of the Democrats’ loss in the 2016 election, and the weapon with which to delegitimize the incoming President Donald Trump, was set. ‘Shattered’, the sympathetic chronicle of Hillary Clinton’s doomed presidential run, details how “less than 24 hours after the concession speech” her campaign manager John Podesta and his team gathered at their emptying headquarters to forge the narrative for the coming months in which “Russian hacking was the centerpiece.”
On January 10, 2017 BuzzFeed published the DNC-funded Christopher Steele dossier – a historic document not for the revelations contained therein, but as a marker for the strength of sentiments against Donald Trump, and a watershed for the deliberate dropping of US journalistic standards for a political cause.
An alliance between the bitter Republican establishment and vengeful Democrats has since formed in Congress, driving the anti-Russian agenda throughout the year. The sanctions bill overwhelmingly passed in July designated Russia alongside Iran and North Korea as America’s official “adversaries.” It also charged Moscow with such a wide-ranging list offenses – encompassing Ukraine, Syria, hacking, energy security threats – and a similarly lengthy list of targets – from politicians, to oligarchs, to companies, to banks – that even with the best will in the world, it is not clear that the Kremlin could fulfil any specific criteria to have them removed.
Congress also did not pass up the opportunity to humiliate its president like an untrustworthy child, by placing severe restrictions on Trump’s ability to loosen any of the measures regardless of international dynamics, thus rendering all future diplomatic efforts likely futile. Hence the pitiful sight of Trump signing the bill into action even as he denigrated it as “deeply flawed.”
Unsurprisingly, Moscow said that the measures would result in an “out-and-out trade war” while Putin called them “illegal” and bemoaned that “US-Russian relations are being sacrificed to resolve internal policy issues.”
The act gave the start to the most unedifying tit-for-tat saga of the year, in which both sides tasked themselves with calculating exactly how many consular staff they needed to expel to reach “parity”in the stand-off, and arguing over whether each step was an escalation or merely the just response in the dispute.
In response to Congress and those initially unanswered expulsions, Putin ordered US missions to reduce their payroll by 755 employees. One month later, in late August, the White House gave Moscow 72 hours to shutter three of its diplomatic buildings, including its oldest consulate in San Francisco, which in turn led to threats of lawsuits from the Russian side, unhappy about being forced out of properties it owns…..More Here