Russia Pulls Back From The Brink Of Retaliation Against U.S. Sanctions

Dec 30, 2016
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We begin with Russia a day after President Obama announced sanctions against the Kremlin for allegedly interfering in U.S. elections. Among other measures, Obama ordered out 35 Russian diplomats believed to be intelligence agents.

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It looked like Russia would respond in kind until the very last moment. President Vladimir Putin proved once again his ability to surprise. NPR's Lucian Kim reports on a day of high political theater in Moscow.

LUCIAN KIM, BYLINE: Within hours after the White House announced the expulsions, Russian officials took to social media to express their outrage. The Russian Embassy in London tweeted a picture of a duckling with the word lame stamped over it. It was retweeted more than 19,000 times. Then Maria Zakharova, the spokeswoman of Russia's foreign ministry, posted on Facebook. She accused the Obama administration of being, quote, "a group of foreign policy losers who have humiliated America more than any foreign enemy could have."

Everything was set up for a big announcement on Friday, and sure enough, at lunchtime, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov went on national TV.

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SERGEY LAVROV: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: "Of course we can't leave such antics without a response," Lavrov said. "That's why the foreign ministry was recommending the expulsion of 35 American diplomats working in Russia." Done and dusted it seemed. In Vladimir Putin's top-down power structure, there's generally no public discussion and no dissent. But that's why this came as a surprise.

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: Newsflash - Putin has declined the recommendations of his foreign minister. Putin's statement was so important that a news anchor read it out in its entirety.

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UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: "We will not expel anyone," she read from his statement. "Moreover, I invite all children of U.S. diplomats to view the Christmas tree in the Kremlin." Putin went on to send holiday greetings to the entire American people.

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UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: And in the new year, Putin said in his statement, he will work to restore Russian-U.S. relations based on the policies of incoming president Donald Trump. Lucian Kim, NPR News, Moscow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.