Putin Says Russia Won't Expel Diplomats In Response To U.S. Sanctions

Dec 30, 2016
Originally published on December 30, 2016 3:45 pm

Updated at 2:50 p.m. ET

Russian President Vladimir Putin says Russia won't be expelling U.S. diplomats in a tit-for-tat response to U.S. sanctions, as his foreign minister had suggested earlier Friday.

Instead, he says he will decide how to move forward depending on the actions of President-elect Donald Trump's administration.

Trump took to Twitter on Friday afternoon to praise Putin's decision, calling it a "great move."

On Thursday, the White House announced sanctions against Russia in response to what it called "a decade-long campaign of cyber-enabled operations" against the U.S. — including actions meant to interfere with the U.S. presidential election.

On Friday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov went on state TV and called the sanctions "antics" that Russia can't leave unanswered.

He said the U.S. provided no evidence for its claims of Russian cyber operations, NPR's Lucian Kim reports.

"The Kremlin has consistently denied accusations that its hackers had broken into the Democratic National Committee or tried to sway the U.S. election," Lucian notes.

And he proposed specific counteractions Russia could take.

As we reported Thursday, President Obama's executive order calls for 35 Russian diplomats — described by the White House as "intelligence operatives" — to be expelled from the U.S. and for two Russian facilities in the U.S. to be closed. Sanctions will also be imposed on several Russian individuals and organizations, and Obama's statement says more actions will be taken, "some of which will not be publicized."

Lavrov announced plans for Russia to respond in kind, as Lucian reported from Moscow. Lavrov's plan, which needed Putin's approval, called for 35 American diplomats to be expelled and for U.S. diplomats to "lose access to two buildings, just as Russian diplomats will no longer be able to use two retreats in Maryland and New York," Lucian reports.

But just two hours after Lavrov's comments, Putin announced that nothing of the sort was happening.

Putin called the Obama administration's actions provocative and said Russia had grounds for a response. He said the Kremlin would reserve the right to a countermeasure — but that it would not "stoop to the level of irresponsible diplomacy," as Lucian translated it.

At least for now, no diplomats will be expelled or barred from using facilities in Moscow, he said. Any actions will wait until Trump takes office.

"It is regrettable that the Obama administration is ending its term in this manner," Putin said. "Nevertheless, I offer my New Year greetings to President Obama and his family.

"My season's greetings also to President-elect Donald Trump and the American people. I wish all of you happiness and prosperity."

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