US expels Russian diplomats over hacking, Moscow vows ‘response’

Washington/Moscow, Dec 30 (IANS) US President Barack Obama ejected 35 Russian diplomats from the country as a punishment over the alleged hacking during the 2016 US presidential election and also imposed sanctions on Moscows two leading intelligence services.

The diplomats, on Thursday, were given 72 hours to leave the country with their families. The US will also close two compounds — in New York and Maryland — used by Russian intelligence services General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation (GRU) and Federal Security Service (FSB).

Reacting to the announcement, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Friday that the Kremlin’s reaction would cause the US “significant discomfort”, reported the BBC.

However, he hinted that Russia may wait until Donald Trump, who has played down the hacking claims, becomes President.

Russia has denied any involvement and called the US sanctions “ungrounded”.

“These decisions were taken by President Obama, but Trump will become the head of state in three weeks’ time,” the BBC quoted Peskov as saying.

“Of course, this factor will certainly be taken into account one way or another.”

Meanwhile, US President-elect Donald Trump was to be briefed by American intelligence officials on alleged Russian hacking, reports said.

“It’s time for our country to move on to bigger and better things. Nevertheless, in the interest of our country and its great people, I will meet with leaders of the intelligence community next week in order to be updated on the facts of this situation,” Trump said in a short statement.

The expulsion of the 35 Russians, who the administration said were spies posing as diplomats and other officials, and their families was in response to the harassment of American diplomats in Russia, US State Department officials said. It was unclear if they were involved in the hacking.

The Obama administration also penalised four top officers of Russia’s GRU after the US intelligence agencies concluded that GRU ordered the attacks on the Democratic National Committee and other political organisations, with the approval of the Kremlin.

Also, emails were stolen from Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager.

Some emails containing embarrassing information for Democrats were released during the election campaign through the Wikileaks website.

US intelligence agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Central Intelligence Agency, concluded that the aim of the hack was to cause damage to Clinton and the Democrats and favour Trump.