The question now is what President-elect Donald Trump will do when he takes office in less than a month.
After all, Trump’s acquiescent attitude towards anything having to do with Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin, is so baffling, so dismissive of American institutions and arguably of the country’s interests, that it has become the most corrosive point of contention between Trump and members of his own party.
US security agencies have been in agreement that Russian-backed hackers deliberately stole emails from the Democratic National Committee and from Hillary Clinton’s campaign chief John Podesta, then moved to have the private emails made public in an effort to help Trump, Putin’s favored candidate, win the election.
Obama, however, did not act, fearing he would be seen as trying to help his candidate, Hillary Clinton, win the election. His reticence may have changed the course of history. But that’s spilled milk.
The point is what happens now.
And so, Obama’s new executive order not only lashes out at Russia, it does something more important: It places the onus on Trump.
He will have to decide if he actively moves to reverse Obama’s executive order despite the conclusions reached by US security services. That would infuriate many members of his own party.
But Trump’s position when it comes to Russia has been steadfast. He gives Putin the benefit of the doubt, even at the expense of America’s own intelligence services. He has dismissed the conclusions of US government experts, memorably suggesting that perhaps it was a 400-pound man on a couch who was responsible for the hacking.
The issue of US relations with Russia, particularly in the aftermath of the election hacking, has the potential to bring Putin into direct confrontation with Republicans in Congress, some of whom were already calling for sanctions even before Obama acted.
Obama has put Trump on the spot. Will he actively defend Putin, lifting the sanctions, despite US intelligence conclusions and the views of many in the Republican Party, or will he act as the president of the United States, a man responsible for preserving democracy and defending his own country against aggression from abroad?
After all, we all remember Trump’s immortal words, “No puppet, no puppet!” in denying the charge that he is beholden to Putin.