US President-elect Donald Trump has praised Vladimir Putin after the Russian president ruled out a tit-for-tat response to the expulsion of diplomats in a row over hacking.
Mr Trump tweeted: “Great move on delay (by V. Putin) – I always knew he was very smart!”
Mr Putin had earlier said Russia would not stoop to “irresponsible diplomacy”.
Washington expelled 35 diplomats over hacking related to the US election. Moscow denies any involvement.
Mr Trump emphasised his statement on the row by pinning his tweet to the top of his account.
It was unclear exactly what he was referring to with the term “delay”.
He has previously dismissed the hacking claims as “ridiculous” and said that Americans should “get on with our lives” when asked about the possibility of sanctions.
However, speaking before Mr Putin’s decision, Mr Trump did say he would meet US intelligence chiefs next week to be “updated on the facts of this situation”.
His senior aide Kellyanne Conway said on Thursday: “Even those who are sympathetic to President Obama on most issues are saying that part of the reason he did this today was to quote ‘box in’ President-elect Trump.
“That would be very unfortunate if politics were the motivating factor here. We can’t help but think that’s often true.”
Under the US action:
- Thirty-five diplomats from Russia’s Washington embassy and its consulate in San Francisco were 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 were closed
- Sanctions were announced against nine entities and individuals including two Russian intelligence agencies, the GRU and the FSB
Barack 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.
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.”
A skilled hand: Jonathan Marcus, BBC diplomatic correspondent
This was a carefully stage-managed response from Mr Putin – dangling the possibility of tit-for-tat expulsions and then showing magnanimity in postponing any response – at least for now.
It is fundamentally a put-down for the Obama administration, suggesting that, in Moscow’s view, it is such a lame-duck, so irrelevant, as to make any response unnecessary.
It also poses an immediate test for President-elect Trump. Will he be convinced by the evidence the US intelligence agencies say they have? And, if so, what course will he steer in his relations with Russia?
This is no new Cold War. Russia is simply a kind of “pocket” superpower, nothing like the Soviet Union of old. But Mr Putin has shown here in relations with the West, as in Ukraine and Syria, that he can play a limited hand with great skill. Mr Trump will need to respond to this challenge in a decisive but graduated way.
He wished Barack Obama and his family a happy New Year, as well as Mr Trump and “the whole American people”.
Mr Putin’s comments rebuffed his foreign ministry which had reportedly suggested expelling 31 US diplomats from Moscow and four from St Petersburg.
It also suggested banning US diplomats from their dachas (holiday homes) in Serebryany Bor near Moscow and a warehouse on Moscow’s Dorozhnaya Street.
There has been no response yet to Mr Putin’s move from the Obama administration.
One Congressman, Texan Republican Will Hurd, warned about the Russian leader’s trustworthiness.
“When it comes to Vladimir Putin you can’t always truly believe what he says. You need to watch what he actually does,” he said.
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