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The US strikes back

Washington imposes sanctions, expels agents over Russian hacking

WASHINGTON: The United States on Thursday fired back at Moscow for meddling in the presidential election, imposing sanctions on Russia's top two intelligence agencies, expelling agents and shutting down Russian compounds on US soil.

US President Barack Obama had all but accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of personally ordering audacious cyber hacks that many believe damaged Mrs Hillary Clinton's chances in the election.

The US has concluded that a hack-and-release of Democratic Party and Clinton staff e-mails was designed to put Mr Trump - who has praised Mr Putin - into the Oval Office.

The Kremlin quickly rejected US accusations of cyber interference as "unfounded" and vowed to retaliate.

"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," Mr Obama said.

"These 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..."

Among the measures announced were sanctions against Russia's 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 are used "for intelligence-related purposes".

"All Americans should be alarmed by Russia's actions," Mr Obama said.

"Also, our diplomats have experienced an unacceptable level of harassment in Moscow by Russian security services and police over the last year. Such activities have consequences."

All Americans should be alarmed by Russia's actions. US president Barack Obama

Washington accuses Russian military's Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) of hacking with the intent to interfere with the US election, and says the Federal Security Service (FSB) helped.

Both will face sanctions, withGRU officers including agency chief Igor Valentinovich Korobov and other entities.

The US Treasury also slapped sanctions on Evgeniy Mikhailovich Bogachev and Aleksey Alekseyevich Belan for "involvement in malicious cyber-enabled activities".

The sanctions freeze any assets they may have in the US and blocks US companies from doing business with them.

The 35 Russian agents have been ordered to leave the country within 72 hours.

The US government is declassifying information on Russian cyber activity to help companies defend against future attacks.

"We will continue to take a variety of actions (against Russia)... some of which will not be publicised," Mr Obama said.

"The US and friends and allies around the world must work together to oppose Russia's efforts to undermine established norms of behaviour and interfere with democratic governance."

DOWNPLAY

Mr Trump has downplayed accusations against Russia and pooh-poohed Mr Obama's plans, saying on Wednesday, when asked: "I think we ought to get on with our lives."

Prior to the election, the White House warned Russia to stop its cyber-meddling, reported The Washington Post.

About a week before the election, Washington sent a message to Moscow using a special crisis communication channel for the first time, asking it to stop targeting state voter registration and election systems.

Moscow apparently complied, said US officials. - AFP

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