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Trump Praises Putin's Decision Against Tit-For-Tat Sanctions


President-elect Donald Trump gives thumbs up after speaking to reporters at Mar-a-Lago, Palm Beach, Florida, Dec. 28, 2016.

President-elect Donald Trump has praised Russian President Vladimir Putin for not retaliating for sanctions imposed Thursday by U.S. President Barack Obama. The sanctions were for interference by Russian intelligence agencies in November's U.S. national election.

"Great move on delay (by V. Putin)," Trump tweeted Friday. "I always knew he was very smart!"

"We will not create problems for American diplomats. We will not expel anyone," Putin said in a statement released by the Kremlin. "As it proceeds from international practice, Russia has reasons to respond in kind. Although we have the right to retaliate, we will not resort to irresponsible 'kitchen' diplomacy but will plan our further steps to restore Russian-U.S. relations based on the policies of the Trump administration," the statement continued.

A U.S. State Department official said in response, "We have seen President Putin's remarks. We have nothing further to add."

Trump should be careful about cozying up to Putin, says Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council Ariel Cohen.

A general view of the U.S. embassy in Moscow, Russia, Dec. 30, 2016.
A general view of the U.S. embassy in Moscow, Russia, Dec. 30, 2016.

"It’s all so wink-wink, nod-nod to Trump, [to] say ‘Hey, Donald, I’m here to have good relationship with you. Come here and let's do something new and different,’" Cohen told VOA. "How long will it take? People pointed out George W. Bush and Obama tried to have good relations with Putin and failed."

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had suggested retaliatory action against the U.S., along with banning U.S. embassy personnel from using a country house and warehouse in the Moscow area.

Obama imposed sanctions on two intelligence agencies, expelled 35 Russian agents and closed two Russian compounds inside the United States. Russia immediately denounced the sanctions as unlawful and threatened to retaliate.

Obama called his actions "a necessary and appropriate response to efforts to harm U.S. interests in violation of established international norms of behavior."

Obama's action coincided with the release Thursday of a 13-page joint analysis by the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security that blamed Russia's intelligence agencies for hacks intended to influence the 2016 election and provided technical details, including samples of malicious computer code said to have been used in their cyber hacking campaign.

Analyst Cohen says the sanctions are too little too late. "These are massive attacks on American political system and I would expect the White House to respond in a tougher way and much earlier."

The sanctions

Among the actions ordered by Obama are sanctions against nine Russian individuals and entities: the GRU—Russia's military intelligence agency; the FSB—its foreign intelligence service; four GRU officers, and three companies that provided material support to the GRU.

In addition, Evgeniy Bogachev and Aleksey Belan were sanctioned. The Treasury Department calls them "notorious criminals" who are responsible for the cyber theft of more than $100 million dollars from U.S. banks, companies and other American firms.

Thirty-five Russian government officials in Washington and in the consulate in San Francisco were given 72 hours to leave the United States for "acting in a manner inconsistent with their diplomatic status and consular activities."

Russian officials also will be denied access to what the U.S. State Department calls two Russian government-owned recreational compounds in Maryland and New York. This is after U.S. diplomats in Moscow were harassed and physically assaulted.

"In addition to holding Russia accountable for what it has done, the United States and friends and allies around the world must work together to oppose Russia's efforts to undermine established international norms of behavior and interfere with democratic governance," Obama said in announcing the sanctions.

Cars drive past the headquarters of the FSB security service, the successor to the KGB in central Moscow on December 30, 2016.
Cars drive past the headquarters of the FSB security service, the successor to the KGB in central Moscow on December 30, 2016.

Russia's U.N. ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, criticized Friday the U.S. sanctions decision, saying it affects Russian children who used the compounds that have been ordered closed.

"I think it's quite scandalous that they chose to go after our kids," Churkin said. "They know full well that those two facilities which they mention in their notes, they are vacation facilities for our kids. And this is Christmas time. This is vacation time for our schools from the first of January to the 10th of January. This is the time when the kids go to those two facilities. So to block our access to them just while the holidays were starting, you know, to me was rather cynical of them. So here go their family values.”

Putin, for his part, has invited all children of U.S. diplomats accredited in Russia to holiday parties at the Kremlin.

Meanwhile, U.S. Senator John McCain, the Senate Armed Services Committee chairman, has called for a hearing Thursday on cyberthreats against the U.S., including a discussion of Russia’s alleged hacking during the election.

James Clapper, the director of National Intelligence, Admiral Mike Rogers, director of the National Security Agency, and Marcel Lettre, the undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence, were invited to the hearing.

McCain, who is in Ukraine, told RFE/RL’s Ukrainian service Friday that Russian hacks were “an attack on the United States of America and an attack on the fundamentals of our democracy. If you destroy the ... elections, then you destroy democracy.”

Watch: Trump Praises Russian President for Ruling Out Tit-for-Tat Sanctions

Trump Praises Russian President for Ruling Out Tit-for-Tat Sanctions
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Not the end

A senior White House official said Thursday's publicly announced actions are not the end of the American response. He said other measures will be taken but not made public.

President-elect Trump has made no secret of his desire for better ties with Moscow.

A Russian compound, which was ordered to be closed and vacated, is seen in Upper Brookville, Long Island, New York, Dec. 30, 2016.
A Russian compound, which was ordered to be closed and vacated, is seen in Upper Brookville, Long Island, New York, Dec. 30, 2016.

But Emma Ashford, a foreign policy expert from the Cato Institute, told VOA that Trump would face a lot of opposition from Congress if he tries to undo the sanctions.

"Part of why this has been so difficult for the Obama administration is they were also trying to find something that Trump could not on his first day in office undo," Ashford said.

She added that the Obama administration must "try to send a signal that no matter what Donald Trump might say about how much he likes Vladimir Putin and how we're going to improve relations with Russia, that there has to be some sort of penalty for what the Russians tried to do in the election."

But by refraining from retribution, Putin is smoothing the way for Trump to undo the sanctions, says senior advisor to the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, Eric Lorber. "Retaliation right now would actually make it more difficult for Trump to unwind the sanctions or to attempt to reduce tensions in the relationship."

Trump is in a very tough position, according to Pavel Sharikov, of the Russian Academy of Sciences Institute for U.S. and Canadian Studies.

“Since Russians still deny that they have anything to do with this hacking, they should suggest to the Trump administration full cooperation in [the] investigation [of] these hacking incidents and punishing whoever did this,” said Sharikov.

Thirty-five is the second largest number of Russian diplomats ordered out of the United States at one time since the end of the Cold War. President George W. Bush expelled 50 Russians in March 2001 for alleged spying. President Ronald Reagan deported a total of 80 Russian diplomats also suspected of spying during the fading years of the Cold War in 1986.

On the streets of Moscow Friday, Russians lamented the idea of tit-for-tat sanctions with the U.S. “We need to make the opposite—not to separate our people, but to unite them,” said a woman giving only her first name as Yulia.

“I think that all the politics problems will be resolved and we will come to understanding,” said a woman who also gave only her first name, Dasha. “I want the people from Russia and America to be friends.”

Jessie Oni, Elizabeth Cherneff and Candace Williams contributed to this report.