Of course he did, just as he tried to box Trump in on Israel by signing off on last week’s UN resolution. There was no reason for O to wait until his final month in office to punish Russia. The CIA was briefing congressional leaders about Russian involvement in the hackings as far back as September. If O was unprepared to act then because he didn’t want to be seen as influencing the election, he could have readied a response for November. But even so, it’s impossible to imagine him retaliating against Russia if Clinton had won the election. He would have deferred to his successor in handling the matter so that she could decide how aggressive America’s response should be. He’s acting now because he doesn’t trust that Trump will retaliate at all, which is, alas, a perfectly reasonable suspicion. Now, if Trump wants a full Russian reset, he’ll have to undo punitive measures that have already been imposed by the U.S. instead of simply ignoring the hacking and hoping that everyone forgets about it. Does he really want to lift the new sanctions and be accused by the left of being weaker on Russia than … Barack Obama?
But it’s not just Trump who’s being boxed in. His party’s boxed in too:
Democrats are already seeking to exploit this rift, drafting legislation designed to make it harder for President-elect Donald Trump to unilaterally roll back Obama’s new sanctions.
The goal is to force Republicans into a tough spot in which they can either soften their long-standing animosity toward Russia, opening themselves to charges of hypocrisy — or defy Trump, who on Wednesday dismissed efforts to punish Russia by saying “we ought to get on with our lives.”…
A Senate Democratic aide, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said it will be telling whether Republicans get on board with such measures. “It remains to be seen whether these guys are all talk and no action,” said the aide, who noted that “this is the Republican Party that in 2012 called Russia the No. 1 geopolitical foe for the United States in the world.”
I wrote about McConnell’s and Ryan’s dilemma on Russia yesterday. If they support Democratic legislation to make it harder for Trump to roll back sanctions, they’re putting their party’s new leader in the position of either accepting the sanctions and wrecking his Russia detente or vetoing them over his party’s objection, which could in turn lead to a humiliating veto override in Congress. Either way, it’ll pit Trump against both Democrats and Republican hawks, setting up a fight on the right over Russia and isolating him domestically on his new friendliness towards Putin.
Putin seems eager to test Trump too. Last night Russian dissident Garry Kasparov made this prediction after the U.S. announced it was expelling 35 Russian diplomats:
If Putin doesn't retaliates in kind as he would normally do by expelling Americans, it means he's counting on Trump to fix it all for him.
— Garry Kasparov (@Kasparov63) December 29, 2016
That’s exactly what Putin ended up doing this morning. We won’t expel American diplomats as retaliation for the U.S. expelling our people, he said, because “in our future steps on the way toward the restoration of Russia-U.S. relations, we will proceed from the policy pursued by the administration of D. Trump.” (Just to be even more of a troll, he invited the children of American diplomats stationed in Russia to the Kremlin to celebrate New Year’s Eve.) Putin’s keeping his hand extended to Trump to make sure he understands he still has a choice despite Obama’s best efforts to the contrary — either warm relations with Moscow or warm relations with the American right’s Russia hawks. He’ll have to choose. It ain’t just Obama who’s putting Trump in a difficult position.