Going against the recommendation of his own foreign minister, Russian President Vladimir Putin says he will not expel U.S. diplomats from Russia, even as the Obama administration put 35 Russian intelligence operatives on notice Thursday that they had 72 hours to leave the U.S.
"Returning to their homeland, Russian diplomats will spend the New Year holidays in the circle of relatives and friends — at home," Putin said in a statement released Friday, further vowing to "not create problems for U.S. diplomats."
"We will not send anyone away. We will not prohibit their families and children to use for their usual vacation spots in the New Year's holidays," the statement reads.
Instead, the former KGB agent attempted to portray himself as a type of Jolly Old St. Nick.
"Moreover," the statement adds, "all children of American diplomats in Russia, I invite you to New Year's and to the Christmas tree at the Kremlin.
Putin the Magnanimous (full statement) https://t.co/sJw4Vhnpvm— Ram Ramgopal (@Ram Ramgopal) 1483105141.0
Moscow's bizarre response came just hours after President Barack Obama issued an executive order ejecting 35 Russian intelligence operatives from the U.S. and shutting down two Russian compounds in Maryland and New York. The sanctions were a response to bipartisan allegations that Russia interfered in U.S. elections in November, charges the Kremlin still vehemently denies.
"It is a pity that the President Obama administration finishes its work this way," Putin said, looking forward to the "restoration of Russian-American relations," which he added will be achieved by President-elect Donald Trump. It was widely anticipated that Russia would respond in kind and, indeed, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov recommended that Putin expel the same number of U.S. diplomats from Russia.
Trump, for his part, has said the U.S. should "move on," though the president-elect vowed to receive intelligence updates on the matter within the next week.