World

Russia: Diplomatic Relations With US 'Frozen'

| by Nik Bonopartis

Following fresh U.S. sanctions on Russian economic interests and assets belonging to Russian businesses, a spokesman for the Kremlin says communications between the countries is almost nonexistent.

"Nearly all levels of our dialog [with the U.S.] has been frozen," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russian state-run news agency RIA Novosti. "We do not talk to each other. Or we do it to a minimum."

Peskov's Dec. 21 comments came a day after the U.S. levied new sanctions on Russian interests in connection with Russia's ongoing occupation of Crimea, CNN reported.

Those sanctions, Peskov said, "seriously harms our bilateral relations."

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"We can only once again express regret and misunderstanding over this destructive persistence of our U.S. colleagues," Peskov said, vowing that Russia "will take adequate measures" to respond.

Relations between Russia and the U.S., already fragile from major disagreements over the Syrian civil war and Crimea, deteriorated further after President Barack Obama directly accused the Russian government of interfering with the 2016 presidential election.

Obama says the Russian government, at the direction of President Vladimir Putin, hacked the Democratic National Committee and the email account of John Podesta, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton's campaign manager, in an effort to help Republican Donald Trump win the Nov. 8 election.

While WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange broke with his site's usual policy not to discuss its sources and disputed the claim that Russia provided documents to WikiLeaks, there have been conflicting accounts about whether U.S.intelligence agencies blame Russia for the hacks.

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After several media organizations, including The Washington Post, reported that U.S. intelligence agencies had concluded Russia was behind the hacks, other reports followed that disputed that assessment. Since then, new reports have claimed the FBI and CIA now agree that Russia was responsible.

"I told Russia to stop it," Obama told reporters at a White House press conference earlier in December, marking the first time he publicly blamed Russia and Putin for meddling in the election.

On Dec. 16, President-elect Trump said he doesn't buy that accusation.

"They have no idea if it's Russia or China or somebody," Trump said, according to CNN. "It could be somebody sitting in a bed some place. I mean they have no idea."

During his campaign, Trump said he hoped for closer relations between the U.S. and Russia, and has reiterated his position since winning the election. The Obama administration, in contrast, has viewed Putin and Russia as adversaries.

Trump famously appealed to Russia during a July 27 news conference, asking the country to recover more than 30,000 emails that former Secretary of State Clinton's attorneys had deleted from her personal email servers before handing over the hard drives to FBI investigators.

"Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing," Trump said.

Relations between the two countries weren't helped when Russian and American ambassadors traded insults at the United Nations on Dec. 14, with U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power blaming Russia for the humanitarian crisis in the Syrian city of Aleppo.

"Are you truly incapable of shame?" Power asked. "Is there literally nothing that can shame you? Is there no act of barbarism against civilians, no execution of a child that gets under your skin?"

Vitaly Churkin, Russia's ambassador to the U.N., fired back by criticizing the U.S. invasion of Iraq, which he said created a power vacuum, allowing groups like ISIS to form.

Power "built her statement as if she is Mother Teresa herself," Churkin said. "Please, remember which country you represent."

Sources: CNN (2, 3), The New York Times / Photo credit: Kremlin.ru/Wikimedia Commons

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