How Putin’s Response Was A ‘Masterstroke’ Of Political Genius

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Saagar Enjeti White House Correspondent
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Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision not to expel U.S. diplomats in response to U.S. sanctions strengthens his chances of improving relations with the incoming Trump administration.

President Barack Obama officially sanctioned the Russian government Thursday for purportedly trying to influence the 2016 presidential election. These sanctions included expelling 35 Russian diplomats and seizing Russian government property. Putin’s Foreign Minister indicated the Russian government would respond in kind, until he made a surprise announcement Friday that Russia would not take any punitive action.

Oliver Carrol, managing editor of the Moscow Times, called the decision a “masterstroke” in an article Friday for Foreign Policy magazine. Carroll explained, “Russia’s normal response to what it considers aggressive actions from the West is to act reciprocally — and asymmetrically.”

Putin’s decision seemingly “humiliated” Obama in its non-response and set the desired tone for his relationship with the U.S. under President-Elect Trump’s leadership. “Putin is going out of his way to not take Obama seriously,” Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, who spent decades in the C.I.A. tracking Russia while Mr. Putin was rising in the K.G.B., told The New York Times. He continued that Putin “is making a good-will gesture, presumably with the hope and expectation that Donald Trump will respond in kind.”

Trump responded with a laudatory message almost immediately, saying Putin’s decision was “very smart.” Foreign policy analysts across the spectrum saw the move as a chance for Trump to continue on a path to resetting the U.S. relationship with Russia. Trump’s ability to restore friendly relations with Russia will be central to his handling of a number of geopolitical issues including Syria, Ukraine, and the Iran deal.

Trump will however continue to face opposition to his Russia policy within his own party. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnel said of Russia’s alleged actions, “I’m plenty concerned about it and upset about it, and we’re going to get to the bottom of it.” Senator Marco Rubio also said the sanctions were “long overdue” and vowed to strengthen measures against Russia.

Amidst this seeming Republican consensus, it will be exceedingly difficult for Trump to reverse Obama’s punitive sanctions against Moscow without intra-party outcry.

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