Vladimir Putin: “[W]e will proceed from the policy pursued by the administration of D. Trump.” (Sputnik / Mikhail Klimentyev, Kremlin Pool Photo / AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin says he will not retaliate against the United States’ decision to expel Russian diplomats and impose new sanctions, contrary to the recommendation of his foreign minister.

“While we reserve the right to take reciprocal measures, we’re not going to downgrade ourselves to the level of irresponsible ‘kitchen’ diplomacy,” Putin said, using a common Russian idiom for poor behavior. “In our future steps on the way toward the restoration of Russia-United States relations, we will proceed from the policy pursued by the administration of D. Trump.”

On Thursday, the Obama administration moved to eject 35 Russians it claims to suspect of being intelligence operatives and imposed sanctions on two of Russia’s leading intelligence services, among other measures. The administration said it took the action because of Russia’s alleged efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election.

Putin added that it was “unfortunate” that the Obama administration chose to end its relationship with Russia this way.

The New York Times reports:

Mr. Putin, betting on improved relations with the next American president, said he would not eject 35 diplomats or close any diplomatic facilities, rejecting a tit-for-tat response to actions taken by the Obama administration on Thursday.

The switch was remarkable, given that the foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, had just made the recommendation in remarks broadcast live on national television, and given the long history of tit-for-tat expulsions between the two countries. Russian officials have traditionally been sticklers for diplomatic protocol. …

Should Mr. Putin have chosen to retaliate harshly against the United States, he would most likely have deepened the rift between the two countries and left President-elect Donald J. Trump with a nettlesome diplomatic standoff from the moment he sat in the Oval Office. But by choosing to essentially disregard Mr. Obama’s punitive measures, Mr. Putin can try to disarm his American critics, including members of Congress who consider him an aggressive foe of the United States. That could give Mr. Trump more room to pursue the closer cooperation with Russia that he has advocated.

Mr. Putin has a flair for smart, unexpected tactics, and his announcement on Friday appeared to be in keeping with that. Despite all the statements from senior officials, including one from Mr. Lavrov, about the need to respect “reciprocity,” Mr. Putin essentially warned Washington that he was waiting for the Trump administration — a tactic not unlike that adopted by Israel in its recent rejection of a peace plan laid out by Secretary of State John Kerry.

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—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly

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