Vladimir Putin has said he will not expel any American diplomats in retaliation to new US sanctions against Russia over its alleged interference in the presidential election.
Calling the moves a “provocation”, the Russian president said he would not “stoop to the level of irresponsible diplomacy”.
Mr Putin said the 35 diplomats expelled from the US with their families on Thursday would be returning home to celebrate the New Year with relatives and friends.
“We will not create problems for American diplomats, we will not expel anyone,” he continued in a statement, adding that Russia “reserves the right to retaliate”.
Attempting to seize the moral high ground, he extended a public invite for the children of American diplomats to a New Year’s and Christmas party at the Kremlin.
“It is a pity that President Barack Obama’s administration ends its work in this way but nevertheless, I wish him and his family a Happy New Year,” Mr Putin said.
Russia’s foreign ministry proposes expelling 35 US diplomats
His statement, issued by the Kremlin, ended with a congratulations to Donald Trump on his election victory and wishes of “welfare and prosperity” to the American people.
Nigel Farage, a prominent ally of the president-elect who became the first British politician to meet him following the election, was among those praising Mr Putin’s response.
“Pleased to see a mature response from Putin,” the former Ukip leader wrote on Twitter. “A @realDonaldTrump presidency can’t come soon enough.”
The Russian president’s remarks came as a surprise following calls from his own foreign minister to expel an equal number of American diplomats in retaliation.
Sergei Lavrov proposed Mr Putin expels 31 staff members from the US Embassy in Moscow and four more from the consulate in St Petersburg.
“We, of course, cannot leave these tricks unanswered,” he said. “Reciprocity is the law of diplomacy and foreign relations.”
Mr Obama gave 35 Russian “intelligence operatives” 72 hours to leave the country with their families on Thursday.
The president also announced the closure of two Russian compounds in Maryland and New York and sanctions against Russian intelligence agencies and supporting companies.
The moves were a response to Russia’s alleged interference in the US elections. The Kremlin has denied any involvement in cyber attacks believed to have benefited Donald Trump, with Mr Lavrov calling the allegations “groundless on Friday”.
“All Americans should be alarmed by Russia’s actions,” Mr Obama said, claiming the extent of data theft and cyber attacks uncovered “could only have been directed by the highest levels of the Russian government”.
In addition to expelling the 35 intelligence operatives, the president announced sanctions against Russia’s FSB and GRU intelligence agencies, four GRU officers and three companies supporting its cyber operations.
Two other Russians have been blacklisted by the Treasury for “using cyber-enabled means to cause misappropriation of funds and personal identifying information” and the State Department is shutting down two Russian compounds in Maryland and New York.
Mr Obama said the actions were a response to “the Russian government’s aggressive harassment of US officials and cyber operations aimed at the US election” and followed repeated public and private warnings to the Kremlin.
“These actions are not the sum total of our response to Russia’s aggressive activities,” he added.
“We will continue to take a variety of actions at a time and place of our choosing, some of which will not be publicised.”
Mr Obama imposed the sanctions on Russian officials and intelligence services in retaliation for Russia’s alleged hacking of American political sites and email accounts ahead of the November election.
US intelligence agencies believe that Moscow was behind the hacking of Democratic National Committee emails that were then passed to Wikileaks.
Mr Trump has repeatedly dismissed allegations from the CIA and other intelligence agencies that the Kremlin was behind the cyber attacks and said he would soon be meeting with security officials.
During the election campaign, he vowed to “cancel every unconstitutional executive action, memorandum and order issued by President Obama” on his first day in office, without saying who would determine their constitutionality.
A senior official admitted the President-elect could reverse the expulsions once he takes office on 20 January and allow the Russian intelligence officials back into the US.
Mr Putin said his work with Mr Trump to improve US-Russia relations would continue in the “fundamental interests of both Russian and American peoples”.