Obama expels Russian diplomats and Putin tweets back with clowns. Perfect.
President Vladimir Putin resisted a call Friday to expel U.S. diplomats in response to a new round of election-related sanctions against Russia.
The move goes against the advice of Putin’s foreign minister and signaled the Russian leader’s apparent willingness to wait until the inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump to restore wounded U.S.-Russia relations.
In a potential tit-for-tat action, Sergey Lavrov earlier Friday called for the expulsion of 35 U.S. diplomats and the closure of two facilities in Moscow after Washington on Thursday sanctioned Russian intelligence officials, expelled 35 Russian diplomats suspected of being spies and shut down two Russian facilities in the United States over evidence Russia interfered in this year’s presidential election.
“We will not create problems for U.S. diplomats,” Putin said in a statement. “We will not expel anybody.” Putin said the fresh U.S. measures contravened “the fundamental interests of both the Russian and American people.”
In a further mark of apparent appeasement, the Russian president invited the children of U.S. diplomats in Russia to a New Year’s Eve party in the Kremlin.
Lavrov called for the expulsion of 31 employees at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow and four in the U.S. consulate in Saint Petersburg. He added that the foreign ministry submitted a proposal to Putin to bar U.S. diplomats from using two facilities in Moscow — a vacation house and a warehouse.
He said that claims by President Obama’s administration that Russia was behind cyber-attacks that targeted the U.S. election were “groundless.”
“The outgoing U.S. administration of Barack Obama accusing Russia of all mortal sins, trying to blame us for the failure of its foreign policy initiatives, among other things, has put forward additional accusations without any grounds whatsoever that the Russian state was behind attempts to meddle in the U.S. election campaign, which led to the defeat of the democratic candidate,” he said in a speech. “We, of course, cannot leave insults of this kind unanswered.”
But the lack of a response Friday does not mean Russia will not take any counter-measures. Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, promised late Thursday that Russia would “cause serious discomfort to the American side” as a result of the sanctions.
The last time the U.S. expelled Russian diplomats on this scale was in 2001, when 51 were ejected for spying.
The dispute is another example of an increasingly frosty diplomatic relationship between Moscow and Washington that has suffered major setbacks during Obama’s tenure and recalled Cold War-era animosity over differences over Moscow’s support for separatists in Ukraine and Syrian President Bashar Assad.
After Lavrov’s comments, the Russian embassy in the United Kingdom tweeted an image of a hand, apparently located in the U.S., throwing a boomerang bearing the words “Anti-Russian Sanctions” toward Russia. The tweet added: “MFA: American people humiliated by its own President,” referring to the ministry of foreign affairs.