US President elect Donald Trump praised Russian President Vladimir Putin after the Kremlin pulled off a diplomats surprise by not retaliating against the US decision to expel its diplomats midway through the New Year celebrations.
In a dramatic break with tradition, Trump sided with the leader of a rival power and chided the sitting president as he praised Putin for not taking tit-for-tat action against the US diplomats.
"Great move on delay (by V. Putin) - I always knew he was very smart!" Trump tweeted. He also pinned the tweet on top of his comments. Putin had earlier rejected his Foreign Minister Sergie Lavrov's call to expel 35 US diplomats saying Russia would not stoop to "irresponsible diplomacy".
Trump had rejected Obama administration's charge that Russia had sabotaged the US elections, saying the accusation was ridiculous.
The fracas between Russia and the US started after the US government officially accused Russia of orchestrating cyber attacks on the country. A government statement said only the senior-most Russian officials could have authorized the cyber warfare aimed at interfering in the November 8 elections.
A hacker who named himself Guccifer 2.0 had owned up the responsibility in July for the release of documents that revealed the inner workings of the Democratic Party. The US Department of Homeland Security said the method of the attack was consistent with the methods and motivations of Russian-directed efforts.
The Democratic National Committee had disclosed intrusions into its systems in June and blamed Russia for the attacks.
After the elections Obama ordered a probe into the 'malicious cyber activities' allegedly authorised by the Russians and said the investigation must be completed before he leaves office.
All the while that the US administration insisted that Moscow-backed hackers engaged in cyber foul play Trump hasn't been critical of Russia.
In a culmination of the retaliatory steps against Russia, Obama administration expelled 35 Russian diplomats and imposed sanctions on Moscow.
However, Putin refused to reply in kind to the US move and apparently played on the potential change of approach to Russia with Trump replacing Obama in the White House on January 20.
"We won't be banning their families and children from the places where they usually spend the New Year holidays. Furthermore, I invite all children of American diplomats accredited in Russia to the New Year and Christmas Tree in the Kremlin," Putin said in a statement.
Obama has enjoyed wide bipartisan support for his move against Russia, but Trump has taken an unprecedented move of breaking ranks with the sitting president and siding with a rival power.