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Vladimir Putin won't expel U.S. diplomats over hacking sanctions

By Andrew V. Pestano and Allen Cone
Vladimir Putin won't expel U.S. diplomats over hacking sanctions
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday said he will not expel 35 U.S. diplomats in response to U.S. President Barack Obama's recent sanctions against Russia. Putin said he will wait until Donald Trump is president to work to restore U.S./Russian relations. Photo by Alexei Druzhinin/Kremlin/Pool/European Pressphoto Agency

MOSCOW, Dec. 30 (UPI) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday said Moscow will not approve expelling 35 U.S. diplomats in response to sanctions by the Obama administration for alleged election hacking.

"We will not create problems for American diplomats. We will not send anyone away. We will not prohibit their families and children to use their usual vacation spots in the New Year's holidays," Putin said, according to Russian state media.

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Putin said that though Russia reserved the right to respond to the new U.S. sanctions, he would rather attempt to rebuild relations with the United States after Donald Trump is inaugurated Jan. 20.

"Further steps towards the restoration of Russian-American relations will be built on the basis of the policies carried out by the administration of President Trump," Putin said in a statement issued by the Kremlin.

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Trump later Friday called Putin "very smart" for withholding reciprocal sanctions.

"Great move on delay (by V. Putin) -- I always knew he was very smart!" Trump wrote on Twitter from Palm Beach, Fla.

Before Putin's comment, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called for the expulsion of 35 U.S. diplomats as "counter-measures" in response Obama's actions.

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The Russian Foreign Ministry proposed 31 staff members from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow and four from the U.S. consulate in St. Petersburg be expelled, Lavrov said Friday.

The Russian Embassy is shown in northwest Washington, D.C. on Friday, December 30, 2016. President Barack Obama imposed sanctions and expelled 35 Russian diplomats on Thursday. Russia hinted that they would expel American diplomats on Friday but rescinded that later in the day on Friday. Photo by Pat Benic/UPI

The proposal came one day after the White House announced the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats. Also on Thursday, the the Department of Treasury announced sanctions against Russia's main intelligence organizations -- the Federal Security Service, which is the main successor to the KGB, and the GRU, Russia's military intelligence agency.

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In a report, the CIA concluded Russia interfered via hacking -- with Putin's approval -- in the U.S. presidential race to help elect Trump.

Russia denies involvement in the hacking, while Lavrov said the U.S. actions against Moscow are "ungrounded."

After Obama's administration imposed sanctions, Dmitry Peskov, Putin's spokesman, on Friday said there was "absolutely no alternative to the principle of reciprocity" in relation to the expulsion of diplomats.

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Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said President Barack Obama was ending his tenure as president "in anti-Russian agony."

"Sadly, the Obama administration, which began its life with the restoration of cooperation, ends it in anti-Russian agony. RIP," Medvedev wrote on social media.

Trump previously dismissed the CIA's report of Russian hacking as "ridiculous," and on Wednesday added that Americans "ought to get on with our lives."

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