Rus­sia won’t ex­pel diplo­mats in re­tal­i­a­tion

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Josh Le­d­er­man

Stung by new pun­ish­ments, Rus­sia is look­ing straight past Pres­i­dent Barack Obama to Don­ald Trump in hopes the pres­i­den­t­elect will re­verse the tough U.S. stance to­ward Moscow of the past eight years. In a stun­ning em­brace of a long­time U.S. ad­ver­sary, Trump is sid­ing with Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin.

Whether Trump steers the U.S. to­ward or away from Rus­sia upon tak­ing of­fice is shap­ing up as the first ma­jor test of his for­eign pol­icy dis­po­si­tion and his will­ing­ness to buck fel­low Repub­li­cans, who for years have ar­gued Obama wasn’t tough enough. Now that Obama has fi­nally sanc­tioned Rus­sia over hack­ing al­le­ga­tions, Putin es­sen­tially has put re­la­tions on hold till Trump takes over.

“Great move on de­lay (by V. Putin),” Trump wrote Fri­day on Twit­ter. “I al­ways knew he was very smart!”

He was re­fer­ring to Putin’s an­nounce­ment that Rus­sia won’t im­me­di­ately re­tal­i­ate after Obama or­dered sanc­tions on Rus­sian spy agen­cies, closed two Rus­sian com­pounds and ex­pelled 35 diplo­mats the U.S. said were re­ally spies. Although Putin re­served the right to hit back later, he sug­gested that won’t be nec­es­sary with Trump in of­fice.

Brush­ing off Obama, Putin said Rus­sia would plan steps to re­store U.S. ties “based on the poli­cies that will be car­ried out by the ad­min­is­tra­tion of Pres­i­dent D. Trump.” Not only would Rus­sia not kick Amer­i­cans out, Putin said, he was invit­ing the kids of all U.S. diplo­mats to the Krem­lin’s New Year’s and Christ­mas par­ties.

“At this point, they’re trolling Obama,” said Olga Oliker, who di­rects the Rus­sia pro­gram at the Cen­ter for Strate­gic and In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion said it had seen Putin’s re­marks but had noth­ing more to say.

Trump’s move to side with a for­eign ad­ver­sary over the sit­ting U.S. pres­i­dent was a strik­ing de­par­ture from typ­i­cal diplo­matic prac­tice. In a sign he wanted max­i­mum pub­lic­ity, Trump pinned the tweet to the top of his Twit­ter page so it would re­main there in­def­i­nitely.

Rus­sia de­nies the U.S. in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity’s as­sess­ment that in an at­tempt to help Trump win the pres­i­dency, Moscow or­ches­trated cy­ber­breaches in which tens of thou­sands of Democrats’ e-mails were stolen and later made pub­lic. Trump, too, has re­fused to ac­cept that con­clu­sion and in­sisted the coun­try should just “move on,” although he has agreed to meet next week with in­tel­li­gence lead­ers to learn more.

No­tably, after the U.S. on Thurs­day is­sued a re­port it said ex­posed Rus­sia’s cy­ber­tac­tics, Putin’s aides didn’t of­fer any spe­cific re­but­tal. The re­port in­cluded de­tailed tech­ni­cal in­for­ma­tion such as IP ad­dresses and sam­ples of mal­ware code the U.S. said Rus­sia uses.

There’s lit­tle cer­tainty about how Trump will ac­tu­ally act on Rus­sia once he takes of­fice Jan. 20. Although he has praised Putin as a strong leader and said it would be ideal for the two coun­tries to stop fight­ing, he also sug­gested this month the U.S. might mount a new nu­clear arms race, trig­ger­ing fresh anx­i­eties about a re­turn to Cold War-style ten­sions.

Am­bas­sador Michael McFaul, Obama’s for­mer en­voy to Rus­sia, said that although Trump has de­fined his top ob­jec­tive as “get­ting along with the Krem­lin,” Putin has higher goals, in­clud­ing the lift­ing of eco­nomic sanc­tions and, ide­ally, U.S. recog­ni­tion of Rus­sia’s an­nex­a­tion of Crimea.

“Ob­vi­ously, Putin’s not re­spond­ing be­cause he’s wait­ing for Jan. 20,” McFaul said in an in­ter­view. “He’s got these much more im­por­tant ob­jec­tives to him than get­ting into a tit-for­tat re­sponse with the out­go­ing ad­min­is­tra­tion.”

Trump’s warm out­reach to Putin, com­bined with picks for sec­re­tary of state and na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser who are seen as friendly to Rus­sia, have left hawk­ish Repub­li­cans with a par­tic­u­larly un­pleas­ant choice: look hyp­o­crit­i­cal for back­track­ing on their own tough talk or risk a pub­lic rift with their party’s new pres­i­dent.

In the House, many Repub­li­cans who have long called for tougher sanc­tions have been silent or vague about Obama’s penal­ties and Trump’s po­si­tions.

How­ever, a hand­ful of GOP se­na­tors have shown they have no in­ten­tions of let­ting up pres­sure on the Krem­lin.

“We in­tend to lead the ef­fort in the new Congress to im­pose stronger sanc­tions on Rus­sia,” said Repub­li­can Sens. John McCain of Ari­zona and Lind­sey Gra­ham of South Carolina.

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