Putin says Russia won't expel U.S. diplomats

Russian President Vladimir Putin has condemned a new round of U.S. sanctions against Russia, but said Moscow won’t retaliate by expelling American diplomats.

U.S. President Barack Obama on Thursday ordered 35 Russian diplomats to leave, as well as the closure of two facilities, within 72 hours to retaliate against alleged Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election after American political sites and email accounts were hacked.

Putin, in a statement on the Kremlin’s website on Friday, referred to the new sanctions as a “provocation aimed to further undermine Russian-American relations.”

But he said Russia would not expel American diplomats in retaliation, as the Russian foreign minister had suggested Friday.

“The Russian diplomats returning home will spend the new year holidays with their relatives and dear ones,” Putin said. “At home. We will not create problems for U.S. diplomats. We will not expel anybody.”

Festering diplomatic showdown

The diplomatic showdown between Washington and Moscow had been festering even before the Nov. 8 presidential election elevated Donald Trump to the presidency, and puts pressure on the billionaire American businessman not to let Russia off the hook after he takes office on Jan. 20.

Russia’s government had threatened retaliation, and it continues to deny U.S. accusations that it hacked and stole emails to try to help Trump win. Trump said the U.S. should move on, but in a sign he is no longer totally brushing off the allegations, he planned to meet with U.S. intelligence leaders next week to learn more.

Putin’s statement came hours after Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov suggested a tit-for-tat expulsion in televised remarks.

‘I am inviting all children of U.S. diplomats accredited in Russia to the New Year and Christmas parties in the Kremlin.’ - Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president

He said early Friday that Russia’s Foreign Ministry and other agencies have suggested that Putin order expulsion of 31 employees of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow and four diplomats from the U.S. Consulate in St. Petersburg. Another suggestion was to bar American diplomats from using their summer retreat on the outskirts of Moscow and a warehouse south of Moscow.

But in the website remarks, Russia would not prevent the families and children from using the customary rest and leisure facilities and sites during the New Year holidays, Putin said about the diplomats.

“Moreover, I am inviting all children of U.S. diplomats accredited in Russia to the new year and Christmas parties in the Kremlin,” he said.​

The sanctions are the strongest actions the Obama administration has taken to date to retaliate for a cyberattack, and more comprehensive than last year’s sanctions on North Korea after it hacked Sony Pictures Entertainment.

The new penalties add to existing U.S. sanctions over Russia’s actions in Ukraine that have impaired Russia’s economy, but had limited impact on Putin’s behaviour.

Obama said the response to Russia wasn’t over.

“All Americans should be alarmed by Russia’s actions,” said Obama, who was vacationing in Hawaii. He added, “Such activities have consequences.”

He said the U.S. could take further, covert action — a thinly veiled reference to a counterstrike in cyberspace the U.S. has been considering.

Yet the sanctions could easily be pulled back by Trump, who has insisted that Obama and Democrats are merely attempting to delegitimize his election.

‘Anti-Russian death throes’

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has called the new round of U.S. sanctions ”anti-Russian death throes.”

Russia Ukraine

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov had suggested expelling 35 U.S. diplomats in a tit-for-tat move after the U.S. announced Thursday it would expel 35 Russian diplomats. (Alexander Zemlianichenko/Associated Press)

When he was president between 2008 and 2012, Medvedev focused on improving U.S.-Russia ties in what became known as the “reset” policy. On Friday, he voiced disappointment with the new round of sanctions.

“It is sad that the Obama administration that began its life by restoring ties ends it with anti-Russian death throes. RIP,” Medvedev said on Twitter.

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