Putin decides against expelling US staff

Russian president to consider Trump’s actions next month before deciding on response to US expulsions and sanctions.

Russia will not expel anyone in response to US sanctions against the country and the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats from the US, Vladimir Putin has been quoted as saying.

The Kremlin announcement came after Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, said he had proposed the expulsion of 35 American diplomats and a ban on US diplomatic staff from using two facilities in Moscow in retaliation for Thursday’s expulsions and sanctions.

However, a statement carried by RIA, the Russian news agency, on Friday quoted Putin as saying he saw the US actions as a move to undermine relations between the two countries. 

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“We will not create problems for American diplomats. We will not expel anyone,” Putin was cited as saying.

The statement said, however, that Putin would consider the actions of Donald Trump, the US president-elect who takes office next month, when deciding on further steps in the two countries’ relations.

With Thursday’s actions, US President Barack Obama has all but accused Putin of personally ordering a cyber-hack that many Democrats believe damaged their candidate Hillary Clinton’s chances in November’s presidential election of beating her Republican rival Trump.

Putin said Russia reserved the right to retaliate after the US announced the expulsions and the closure of two Russian compounds in a move defended by Obama as “necessary and appropriate” against “efforts to harm US interests”.

“According to international practice, Russia has all the grounds for a comparable response,” Putin said according to the Kremlin statement.

“Reserving the right to retaliatory measures, we … will be planning our next steps in restoring US-Russian relations based on the policies pursued by the administration of President Donald Trump.

“Russian diplomats returning to the motherland will spend their holidays with friends and family, at home.”

The RIA report further says that Putin has extended an invitation to “all children of US diplomats accredited in Russia … to the New Year’s and Christmas party in the Kremlin”.

Role of ‘good cop’

With his measured response, Putin has played the role of “a good cop”, says Sergey Strokan, a political analyst and columnist for Russia’s Kommersant newspaper.

Speaking to Al Jazeera from Moscow on Friday, he said: “It might seem like a contradiction but I think that it is a sort of a role play.

“Political parties here believe that we should not give an excuse to those forces inside the American establishment who will try to tell [President] Trump that he has to follow the same agenda in relation to Russia.

“Putin does not want to deprive Trump of room for manoeuvre and he leaves the option open for him.”

Strokan said Trump will have to backtrack on Obama’s policy, because “if he proves hesitant, there is no doubt Russia will retaliate in a very strong way, and then we will see an equal number of American diplomats expelled”.

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Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies