Donald Trump last night praised Vladimir Putin as “very smart” for not engaging in a tit-for-tat row with the US over the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats accused of espionage.
In a piece of high diplomatic theatre, the Russian president defied expectations of a Cold War-style mutual expulsion and instead met the Obama administration’s sanctions with a show of magnanimity.
Chiding the outgoing president for a provocation designed to undermine US-Russian relations, Mr Putin chose instead to look forward to the incoming administration of Mr Trump who has promised a re-set with Moscow.
“We will not create problems for American diplomats. We will not expel anyone,” he said. “Furthermore, I invite all children of US diplomats accredited in Russia to the Christmas and New Year tree in the Kremlin.”
He added: “Further steps towards the restoration of Russian-American relations will be built on the basis of the policy which the administration of President D. Trump will carry out.”
Earlier Sergei Lavrov, the foreign minister, publically recommend that Russia expel 35 US diplomats and close down two US diplomatic compounds.
“Russia’s foreign ministry… has requested that the Russian president approve declaring as personae non gratae 31 employees of the US embassy in Moscow and four diplomats from the US consulate in Saint Petersburg,” Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, said in televised comments.
The move would have amounted to a tit-for-tat response to American sanctions.