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Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin yes­ter­day ruled out any tit-for-tat ex­pul­sion of Amer­i­cans af­ter Wash­ing­ton turfed out dozens of Rus­sian diplo­mats over al­leged in­ter­fer­ence in the US pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. The Kremlin strong­man’s sur­prise de­ci­sion came af­ter the for­eign min­istry asked him to send home 35 US diplo­mats in re­tal­i­a­tion for the ex­pul­sion of the same num­ber of its staff by Pres­i­dent Barack Obama on Thurs­day. “We will not cre­ate prob­lems for Amer­i­can diplo­mats. We will not ex­pel any­one,” Putin said in a state­ment, also invit­ing chil­dren of US diplo­mats to a hol­i­day party at the Kremlin.

Putin’s move was a clear sign that Moscow is pin­ning its hopes on Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump to help re­build tieswhich have plunged to their low­est point since the Cold War­when he takes of­fice next month. “We eval­u­ate the new un­friendly steps by the out­go­ing US ad­min­is­tra­tion as a provo­ca­tion aimed at fur­ther un­der­min­ing Rus­sian-Amer­i­can re­la­tions,” Putin said.

He said Moscow would plan its next steps “based on the poli­cies pur­sued by the ad­min­is­tra­tion of pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump”, while warn­ing that the Kremlin re­serves the right to hit back.

Putin ended his mes­sage by wish­ing both Obama and Trump a Happy New Year and sep­a­rately con­grat­u­lated Trump in his New Year’s mes­sage to heads of state around the world.

‘Griz­zly Steppe’

Obama on Thurs­day un­leashed a bar­rage of sanc­tions against Rus­sia over al­leged cy­ber­at­tacks aimed at tilt­ing the elec­tion in Trump’s favour. The move came af­ter years of bad blood with Putin that has seen Wash­ing­ton slap sanc­tions on Moscow over its in­ter­fer­ence in Ukraine and Syria. In re­sponse to the al­leged hacks, dubbed “Griz­zly Steppe” by US of­fi­cials, Obama an­nounced sanc­tions against Rus­sia’s mil­i­tary and do­mes­tic in­tel­li­gence agen­cies, and gave the 35 sus­pected “in­tel­li­gence op­er­a­tives” 72 hours to leave.

The Kremlin’s ad­min­is­tra­tion said it is send­ing a spe­cial plane to fly diplo­mats and their fam­i­lies from the US, fol­low­ing re­ports they are not able to pur­chase plane tick­ets on such short no­tice.

For­eign min­istry spokes­woman Maria Zakharova told Rus­sian news agen­cies that a to­tal of 96 peo­ple will be leav­ing the United States, but de­clined to give de­tails on their flight.

US in­tel­li­gence con­cluded that the Kremlin had or­dered a hack-and-re­lease of Demo­cratic Party and Hil­lary Clin­ton cam­paign staff emails in a bid to put Repub­li­can real es­tate mogul Trump in the Oval Of­fice. Obama’s moves have put him at odds with his suc­ces­sor, who has ex­pressed his ad­mi­ra­tion for Putin and de­sire to im­prove ties with Rus­sia. Moscow has re­peat­edly de­nied the hack­ing al­le­ga­tions and Trump too has ques­tioned whether Rus­sia re­ally tipped the elec­toral scale, paint­ing Obama’s ac­cu­sa­tions as a thinly veiled ef­fort by a Demo­cratic pres­i­dent to cover up for his party’s loss.

Trump said that while he be­lieves the US should “move on to big­ger and bet­ter things,” he would meet in­tel­li­gence lead­ers next week for a brief­ing on the sit­u­a­tion.

Obama-who has also clashed with Trump over his Is­rael pol­icy in re­cent days-has point­edly stated that “all Amer­i­cans should be alarmed by Rus­sia’s ac­tions”.


ENNISKILLEN: This file photo taken on June 17, 2013 shows US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama (L) hold­ing a bi­lat­eral meet­ing with Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin dur­ing the G8 sum­mit at the Lough Erne re­sort near Enniskillen in North­ern Ire­land. Rus­sia yes­ter­day eyed re­tal­ia­tory mea­sures against the US af­ter Pres­i­dent Barack Obama kicked out dozens of sus­pected in­tel­li­gence agents and im­posed sanc­tions in a fu­ri­ous dis­pute over al­leged elec­tion in­ter­fer­ence.

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