US expels 35 Russian diplomats, closes two compounds over vote hacking

The United States on Thursday fired back at Moscow over its meddling in the presidential election, announcing a series of tough sanctions against intelligence agencies, expulsions of agents and shutting down of Russian compounds on US soil.

Last Updated: Dec 30, 2016, 03:40 AM IST
US expels 35 Russian diplomats, closes two compounds over vote hacking

Washington: The United States on Thursday fired back at Moscow over its meddling in the presidential election, announcing a series of tough sanctions against intelligence agencies, expulsions of agents and shutting down of Russian compounds on US soil.

The Obama administration announced a series of retaliatory measures against Russia for hacking into U.S. political institutions and individuals and leaking information to help President-elect Donald Trump and other Republican candidates, two U.S. officials said.

"I have ordered a number of actions in response to the Russian government`s aggressive harassment of US officials and cyber operations aimed at the US election," Obama said.

"These actions follow repeated private and public warnings that we have issued to the Russian government, and are a necessary and appropriate response to efforts to harm US interests in violation of established international norms of behavior."

Among the measures announced were sanctions against Russia`s FSB and GRU intelligence agencies; the designation of 35 Russian operatives as "persona non grata"; and the closure of two Russian compounds in New York and Maryland that the United States says are used "for intelligence-related purposes."

The move against the diplomats from the Russian embassy in Washington and consulate in San Francisco is part of a series of actions announced on Thursday to punish Russia for a campaign of intimidation of American diplomats in Moscow and interference in the U.S. election. 

Trump, who takes office on Jan. 20, has called for better relations with Russia. It was not clear if he will be able to immediately overturn the measures announced on Thursday. 

The Russian diplomats would have 72 hours to leave the United States, the official said. Access to the two compounds, which are used by Russian officials for intelligence gathering, will be denied to all Russian officials as of noon on Friday, the senior U.S. official added.

The State Department has long complained that Russian security agents and traffic police have harassed U.S. diplomats in Moscow, and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has raised the issue with Russian President Vladimir Putin and his foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov. 

"By imposing costs on the Russian diplomats in the United States, by denying them access to the two facilities, we hope the Russian government reevaluates its own actions, which have impeded the ability and safety of our own embassy personnel in Russia," the official said.

The U.S. official declined to name the Russian diplomats who would be affected, although it is understood that Russia`s ambassador to the United States, Sergei Kislyak, will not be one of those expelled. 

(With agency inputs)