Putin decides against tit-for-tat expulsion of US diplomats

Russian President Vladimir Putin has declined to engage in a tit-for-tat after the US expelled 35 Russian diplomats over the hacking scandal.

He said Russia would not “stoop” to the level of “irresponsible diplomacy” but would work to restore ties with America under President-elect Donald Trump.

The Russian foreign ministry had formally asked him to expel 35 US diplomats in retaliation.

Russia denies involvement in hacking, calling US sanctions “ungrounded”.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev accused the outgoing administration of President Barack Obama of ending in “anti-Russian death throes”.

Diplomatic spat goes undiplomatic

Under the US action taken on Thursday:

  • Thirty-five diplomats from Russia’s Washington embassy and its consulate in San Francisco were declared “persona non grata” and given 72 hours to leave the US with their families
  • Two properties said to have been used by Russian intelligence services in New York and Maryland will be closed
  • Sanctions were announced against nine entities and individuals including two Russian intelligence agencies, the GRU and the FSB

Mr Obama, who will be replaced by Donald Trump on 20 January, had vowed action against Russia amid US accusations that it directed cyber-attacks on the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

Emails stolen from her campaign manager and from the servers of the Democratic National Committee – some containing embarrassing information for Democrats – were released during the election campaign.

‘Come to the tree’

In a statement on the Kremlin website (in Russian), Mr Putin said: “We won’t be expelling anyone.

“We won’t be banning their families and children from the places where they usually spend the New Year holidays. Furthermore, I invite all children of American diplomats accredited in Russia to the New Year and Christmas Tree in the Kremlin.”

He wished Barack Obama and his family a happy New Year, as well as Mr Trump and “the whole American people”.

A view of the Russian embassy, 29 December, in WashingtonImage copyright AFP
Image caption The US expulsions affect staff at the Russian embassy in Washington

President-elect Trump has dismissed the hacking claims as “ridiculous” and said Americans should “get on with our lives” when asked previously about the possibility of sanctions.

However, he said late on Thursday he would meet US intelligence chiefs next week to be “updated on the facts of this situation”.

The foreign ministry had suggested expelling 31 US diplomats from Moscow and four from St Petersburg, he said.

It also suggested banning US diplomats from their dachas (holiday homes) in Serebryany Bor near Moscow and a warehouse on Moscow’s Dorozhnaya Street.

Russian media say the Russians facing expulsion from the embassy in Washington are struggling to buy plane tickets because flights are full ahead of the New Year holiday.

They will be forced to travel to New York, where their chances of finding plane seats are better, an “informed source” told Interfax news agency.

Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova has denied a report by CNN that Moscow is shutting down a school attended by diplomats’ children.

She said it was a “lie” that the Anglo-American School faced closure as retaliation.

Meanwhile, the Russian embassy to the UK tweeted a visual gag calling the Obama presidency a lame duck.

Russian Embassy tweets: President Obama expels 35 🇷Russian diplomats in Cold War deja vu. As everybody, incl american people, will be glad to see the last of this hapless Adm.Image copyright @RussianEmbassy

‘Getting nasty’

Pavel Felgenhauer, a Russian military affairs analyst, told BBC World Service things were going to get “very nasty” from here on in.

But US Democrat Senator Amy Klobuchar, who is currently on a visit to the Baltic states, told the BBC it would have been a mistake for the US not to respond to the hacking.

“This is something that is not just about American democracy, it’s about all democracies,” she said. “There’s upcoming elections in Germany and France and for the US just to roll over and to let this happen with no response would have been a huge mistake.”

US intelligence agencies, including the FBI and CIA, concluded that the aim of the hack was to cause damage to Mrs Clinton and the Democrats and favour Mr Trump.

source: BBC