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President Vladimir Putin ruled out on Friday expelling anyone in retaliation for Washington's decision to throw out 35 Russian diplomats and impose sanctions on two of the country's intelligence agencies.
In a move that overturns an earlier plan by Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov to expel 35 U.S. diplomatic staff from Moscow and close two facilities used by the U.S. embassy, the RIA news agency quoted Putin as saying he would consider the actions of President-elect Donald Trump, who takes office next month, when deciding on further steps in Russia-U.S. relations.
President Barack Obama announced on Thursday a decision to expel the 35 Russian diplomats suspected of spying and to impose sanctions on the two Russian intelligence agencies over their alleged involvement in hacking U.S. political groups in the 2016 presidential election.
As well as rejecting Lavrov's plan, Putin also said he saw the sanctions as another step to undermine relations between Moscow and Washington, and he regretted that the Obama administration was ending its term in such a way.
"We regard the recent unfriendly steps taken by the outgoing US administration as provocative and aimed at further weakening the Russia-US relationship. This runs contrary to the fundamental interests of both the Russian and American people. Considering the global security responsibilities of Russia and the United States, this is also damaging to international relations as a whole," Putin said in translated statement on the Kremlin's English-language website.
Putin went on to add that he would be inviting "all children of US diplomats accredited in Russia to the New Year and Christmas children's parties in the Kremlin."
"It is regrettable that the Obama Administration is ending its term in this manner. Nevertheless, I offer my New Year greetings to President Obama and his family," Putin added.
"My season's greetings also to President-elect Donald Trump and the American people."
A total of 96 Russians, including expelled diplomats and their families, are expected to leave the U.S. due to the sanctions, Reuters said, citing Russia's Foreign Ministry from a TASS news agency report.
Earlier Russian Prime Minster Dmitry Medvedev said the Obama administration was ending its term in "anti-Russia death throes."
The U.S. sanctions also closed two Russian compounds in New York and Maryland that the administration said were used by Russian personnel for "intelligence-related purposes."
Earlier on Thursday, Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova already warned of payback after the White House penalized Moscow for alleged interference in the U.S. 2016 election.
"We can only add that if Washington takes new hostile steps, it will receive an answer. This applies to any actions against Russian diplomatic missions in the United States, which will immediately backfire at U.S. diplomats in Russia. The Obama administration probably does not care at all about the future of bilateral relations, but history will hardly forgive it for this après-nous-le-deluge attitude," she said in an official statement.
Washington sanctioned two Russian intelligence agencies, four officers of its largest intelligence agency, GRU, and three companies that supported GRU's operations on Thursday. Obama also expelled 35 Russian diplomats and closed two Russian compounds in New York and Maryland.
Going forward, Paal expects the U.S.-Russian conflict to play out in a more subtle fashion.
"The U.S. is going to mete out sanctions quietly without publicity and Russia will be watching closely how to react. So we may not necessarily see the exchange in the headlines, it's going to be more of a 'Spy vs. Spy' situation."
Reuters contributed to this report.
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