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Trump praises Putin for holding back in U.S.

Television crews assemble outside the
Russian embassy on Wisconsin Avenue in Washington, U.S., December 29,
2016. 
 
 

U.S.
President-elect Donald Trump on Friday praised Russian President
Vladimir Putin for refraining from retaliation in a dispute over spying
and cyber attacks, in another sign that the Republican plans to patch up
badly frayed relations with Moscow.
Putin
earlier on Friday said he would not hit back for the U.S. expulsion of
35 suspected Russian spies by President Barack Obama, at least until
Trump takes office on Jan. 20.
“Great move on delay (by V. Putin) – I always
knew he was very smart!” Trump wrote on Twitter from Florida, where he
is on vacation.

Obama on Thursday ordered the expulsion of the
Russians and imposed sanctions on two Russian intelligence agencies over
their involvement in hacking political groups in the Nov. 8 U.S.
presidential election.

“We will not expel anyone,” Putin said in a statement, adding that Russia reserved the right to retaliate.

“Further steps towards the
restoration of Russian-American relations will be built on the basis of
the policy which the administration of President D. Trump will carry
out,” he said.
In a
separate development, a code associated with the Russian hacking
operation dubbed Grizzly Steppe by the Obama administration has been
detected within the system of a Vermont electric utility, the Washington
Post reported on Friday, citing unnamed U.S. officials.

The
Russians did not actively use the code to disrupt operations of the
utility, the officials told the Post, but penetration of the nation’s
electrical grid is significant because it represents a potentially
serious vulnerability.

Trump
has repeatedly praised Putin and nominated people seen as friendly
toward Moscow to senior administration posts, but it is unclear whether
he would seek to roll back Obama’s actions, which mark a post-Cold War
low in U.S.-Russian ties.

Trump
has brushed aside allegations from the CIA and other intelligence
agencies that Russia was behind the cyber attacks.” It’s time for our
country to move on to bigger and better things,” Trump said on Thursday,
though he said he would meet with intelligence officials next week.

U.S.
intelligence agencies say Russia was behind hacks into Democratic Party
organizations and operatives before the presidential election. Moscow
denies this. U.S. intelligence officials say the Russian cyber attacks
aimed to help Trump defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Russian officials have portrayed the
sanctions as a last act of a lame-duck president and suggested Trump
could reverse them when he takes over from Obama, a Democrat.

A senior U.S. official on Thursday said that Trump could reverse Obama’s executive order, but doing so would be inadvisable.

Russian
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova called the Obama
administration “a group of embittered and dimwitted foreign policy
losers.”

REPUBLICAN OPPOSITION

Should Trump seek to heal the rift with Russia, he might encounter opposition in Congress, including from fellow Republicans.

Republican
John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said on
Friday that Russia must face a penalty for the cyber attacks.

“When
you attack a country, it’s an act of war,” McCain said in an interview
with the Ukrainian TV channel “1+1” while on a visit to Kiev.

“And
so we have to make sure that there is a price to pay, so that we can
perhaps persuade the Russians to stop these kind of attacks on our very
fundamentals of democracy,” added McCain, who has scheduled a hearing
for Thursday on foreign cyber threats.

Other senior Republicans, as well as Democrats, have urged a tough response to Moscow.
A total of 96 Russians are expected to leave the United States including expelled diplomats and their families.

Trump will find it very difficult to
reverse the expulsions and lift the sanctions given that they were
based on a unanimous conclusion by U.S. intelligence agencies, said
Eugene Rumer, who was the top U.S. intelligence analyst for Russia from
2010 until 2014.

But that
might not prevent Trump from improving ties to Russia, said Rumer, now
director of the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for
International Peace, a policy institute. “If Mr. Trump wants to start
the relationship anew, I don’t think he needs to walk these sanctions
back. He can just say this was Obama’s decision,” said Rumer.

As
part of the sanctions, Obama told Russia to close two compounds in the
United States that the administration said were used by Russian
personnel for “intelligence-related purposes.”

Convoys
of trucks, buses and black sedans with diplomatic license plates left
the countryside vacation retreats outside Washington and New York City
without fanfare on Friday.

A
former Russian Foreign Ministry employee told Reuters that the facility
in Maryland was a dacha used by diplomatic staff and their children.
The 45-acre complex includes a Georgian-style brick mansion, swimming
pool, tennis courts and cottages for embassy staff.

Neighbors
said the Russians were a lively bunch, seen water-skiing in summer and
known for throwing a large, annual Labor Day party.

The
Russian consulate in San Francisco said on its Facebook page, “We hate
to have to say goodbye to close to a dozen of our colleagues, our
friends.” Among those expelled was the consulate chef.

Obama
had promised consequences after U.S. intelligence officials blamed
Russia for hacks intended to influence the 2016 election. Officials
accused Putin of personally directing the efforts and primarily
targeting Democrats.

Washington
also put sanctions on two Russian intelligence agencies, the GRU and
the FSB, four GRU officers and three companies that Obama said “provided
material support to the GRU’s cyber operations.”

U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian
President Vladimir Putin walk into a photo opportunity before their
meeting at the United Nations General Assembly in New York September 28,
2015. 
 

(Additional reporting by Ginger Gibson, Jonathan Landay and Yara
Bayoumy in Washington, Yeganeh Torbati and Joel Schectman in
Centreville, Md., David Ingram at the United Nations, Katya Golubkova
and Svetlana Reiter in Moscow and Sergei Karazy and Matthias Williams in
Kiev; Writing by Alistair Bell; Editing by Howard Goller and Leslie
Adler)

   

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