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Trump praises Putin reaction to sanctions, calls Russian leader 'very smart'

By Karoun Demirjian 

President-elect Donald Trump on Friday expressed his appreciation to Vladimir Putin over the Russian president’s announcement that he would not expel American diplomats in response to new U.S. hacking sanctions as a gesture to the incoming administration.

“Great move on delay (by V. Putin),” Trump tweeted Friday afternoon. “I always knew he was very smart!”

The tweet is Trump’s latest nod to Putin, whom he has praised as a strong leader - inspiring considerable backlash from American politicians from both parties who call the Russian president an authoritarian leader who poses a danger to U.S. interests.

The Obama administration on Thursday announced it will expel 35 Russian “intelligence operatives” and shutter facilities in Maryland and New York believed to be used for the Kremlin’s intelligence-gathering purposes, as a way to punish Moscow. U.S. intelligence agencies have alleged that Russian state-backed hackers leaked information about former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton to sway the election in Trump’s favor. Russia denies the charge.

Putin’s decision not to reciprocate is a sharp departure from the tit-for-tat policies Moscow pursued against the United States in response to Ukraine-related sanctions in 2014.

Putin announced Friday he “won’t create problems for American diplomats” in retaliation while he waits for the new administration to take office, adding he would “plan further steps for restoring the Russian-American relationship based in the policies enacted by the administration of President Donald Trump.”

Trump remained relatively quiet about the substance of the sanctions announced Thursday, even as Republican lawmakers greeted them as a necessary, overdue action that should be expanded in the future.

The president-elect said only that it was “time for our country to move on to bigger and better things” and promised he would meet with intelligence leaders next week to get more details.

In the past, Trump has also dismissed the intelligence community’s findings that Russia was behind hacks of the Democratic National Committee and Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta, among other election-related breaches, arguing that the culprit could just as easily be China or “some guy in his home in New Jersey.”

On Friday, Trump’s incoming chief of staff Reince Priebus rushed to clarify that Trump’s comments were not an indication that the new administration would not taking hacking allegations seriously.

“We agree that foreign governments shouldn’t be hacking American institutions, period,” Priebus told Fox News. “So it’s not like we condone the hacking of institutions and entities and businesses in America, of course not.”

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