President-elect Donald Trump praised Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday afternoon, after the Russian leader said he would not expel any U.S. diplomats from his country.
Trump tweeted, “Great move on delay (by V. Putin) – I always knew he was very smart!”
It’s shockingly direct praise from an incoming American president for a Russian leader who’s been accused by U.S. intelligence agencies and President Barack Obama of overseeing hacking efforts aimed at influencing the 2016 election.
Trump’s praise comes after Obama announced that he would sanction Russian intelligence agencies and expel 35 suspected spies that the U.S. thinks were involved in the hacking effort. Both the FBI and CIA agree that Russia used cyber attacks to try to tip the election toward the country’s preferred winner: Trump.
“All Americans should be alarmed by Russia’s actions,” the president said in a statement on Thursday. The 35 operatives who will be expelled are currently posted at Russian diplomatic facilities in Washington and San Francisco. The sanctions also bar two Russian intelligence agencies, three companies and four intelligence officers from traveling into or doing business with the U.S.
Russians are also being barred from entering two compounds in Maryland and New York that the administration said were used for information-gathering.
But in response, Putin said he would not retaliate.
“While keeping the right for retaliatory measures, we will not descend to the level of … irresponsible diplomacy,” the Russian leader said in a statement on Friday. Instead, Putin said he would await the incoming Trump administration to begin on Jan. 20 before making any decisions.
The choice drew applause from Trump. The president-elect pinned his tweet at the top of his feed, and the Russian embassy’s official account retweeted it.
Trump repeatedly praised Putin and Russia during and after the 2016 campaign, and declined opportunities to criticize the Russian leader and his government for human rights abuses and military actions in Syria and the Ukranian territory of Crimea.
Trump specifically cited Putin’s leadership, telling MSNBC last December, “When people call you ‘brilliant’ it’s always good, especially when the person heads up Russia. He’s running his country and at least he’s a leader. You know, unlike we have in this country.”