Russia's Foreign Ministry has suggested that President Vladimir Putin expel 35 US diplomats after the US decision to sanction Russia. But Putin has said he will keep his options open, drawing praise from Donald Trump.
The Foreign Ministry in Moscow on Friday announced its recommendation for retaliatory measures against the US State Department's decision to expel 35 Russian diplomats and close two compounds used by Russian intelligence operatives.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said at least 35 US diplomats will be expelled from the country, Russian news agencies reported, including 31 diplomats based in Moscow and four others working at the US consulate in St. Petersburg.
Moscow 'reserves the right to retaliate'
But only a few hours later, Russian President Vladimir Putin said he would not eject the US diplomats, according to Russia's RIA news agency.
Putin added that Russia would "reserve the right to retaliate" against the United States after Moscow examined policies set by US President-elect Donald Trump's administration, saying Moscow would not stoop to the level of "marketplace" diplomacy. Trump enters office on January 20.
"I see the new unfriendly steps, taken by the outgoing US administration, as a provocation aimed at undermining US-Russian relations," he said.
"This is clearly contrary to fundamental interests of both Russian and American nations.
"Taking into consideration the global responsibility of Russia and the US to preserve global safety, this also damages international relations as a whole," he added.
Praise from Trump
In response, Trump tweeted his support of Putin's decision, calling him "very smart!"
Trump's decision to side with a foreign adversary over a sitting US president drew a mute response in Washington. The Obama administration said it had seen Putin's remarks but had nothing more to say.
Washington announced its measures on Thursday, calling the decision to expel 35 Russian diplomats a reprisal for Moscow's involvement in undermining the US presidential election through cyberattacks.
The sanctions against Moscow target the Russian military's Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU), which allegedly hacked information with the intent to interfere in the US election with the help from the Federal Security Service (FSB).
However, Lavrov on Friday dismissed the allegations of cyber-interference, saying they were baseless. Moscow has consistently denied its involvement in cyberattacks that targeted the Democratic National Committee (DNC).
On Thursday, the US Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation issued a statement following a joint analysis of Russia's alleged malicious cyber activity during the elections.
"The intelligence community is confident the Russian government directed the recent compromises of emails from US persons and institutions, including from US political organizations, and that the disclosures of alleged hacked emails on sites like DCLeaks.com and WikiLeaks are consistent with the Russian-directed efforts," it said.
US President Barack Obama on Thursday said additional retaliatory measures will likely be made, although some may not be publicized. US-Russia relations have soured since Moscow's illegal annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in 2014 in an internationally condemned referendum.
ls, ipj/cmk (Reuters, dpa, AP)