The true target of these sanctions is Donald Trump.
By imposing sanctions on Russia, Obama is lending the authority of the Presidency to the CIA’s claims of Russian hacking, daring Trump to deny their truth.
If Trump as President allows the sanctions to continue, he will be deemed to have accepted the CIA’s claims of Russian hacking as true. If Trump cancels the sanctions when he becomes President, he will be accused of being Russia’s stooge.
It is a well known lawyer’s trick, and Obama the former lawyer doubtless calculates that either way Trump’s legitimacy and authority as President will be damaged, with the insinuation that he owes his Presidency to the Russians now given extra force.
The key point about Putin’s response yesterday is that it has made clear that the “difficult dilemma” Obama thought he was creating for Trump does not exist.
By blaming Obama for the sanctions, by getting his diplomats to call Obama a “lame duck”, and by refusing to respond in kind, Putin and the Russians have enabled Trump to sidestep the trap Obama laid for him, and have given him the political space he needs to forge ahead with his policy of improving relations with Russia.