There appeared to be two separate messages coming out of the Kremlin on Friday, when Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced that 31 American diplomats would be expelled as retaliation -- and then Russian President Vladimir Putin announced no U.S. diplomats would be ousted.
What appeared to be mixed messages coming from Putin actually could be choreographed, CBS News’ Elizabeth Palmer reports.
Lavrov’s announcement of a tit-for-tat expulsion -- President Obama said on Thursday that 35 Russian diplomats would be expelled from the U.S. -- is a common practice that goes back to the Cold War. But Putin made one of the “grand moves” he is known for by declaring that there would be no “tat” expulsion sends the message that Mr. Obama’s gesture is inconsequential and not worth responding to.
Putin is giving a gift to President-elect Donald Trump -- with no counter-expulsion, there won’t be any messy U.S.-Russian diplomatic scrap to untangle when Trump takes office. Putin’s objective has been spelled out: He wants a Trump administration to restore good relations with the Kremlin.
Mr. Trump, for his part, praised Putin on Twitter, writing that he is “very smart” for not retaliating against the U.S. Mr. Trump “pinned” the message to the top of his feed, and it was quickly retweeted by the Russian embassy.
In addition to the expulsion, Mr. Obama announced on Thursday sanctions against GRU and FSB, the leading Russian intelligence agencies the U.S. said were involved in cyberespionage. The sanctions, however, could be easily scraped by Mr. Trump when he takes office on Jan. 20.
In a statement early Friday, Putin called the American sanctions a “provocation” that were “aimed at undermining the future of Russian-American relations.” But he added that he would wait and see what the next administration does once Mr. Trump is sworn into office.
Mr. Obama’s diplomatic move is a reaction to the U.S. intelligence reports that Russian intelligence agencies hacked into the American computer systems to influence the U.S. election.