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So we had the tit, but not the tat.

First, Dmitry Peskov said Russia would respond in kind to the expulsion of its diplomats and other sanctions related to Moscow's alleged interference in the U.S. presidential election.

Then, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov went on national television to say he had a list of 35 U.S. diplomats that should be expelled in retaliation and two facilities used by U.S. diplomats and their families that should be closed.

News reports, later denied by Russian officials, claimed that Moscow was going to close the Anglo-American School, where the children of U.S. diplomats study.

And, after all this, Vladimir Putin's response was to...invite the children of U.S. diplomats to the Kremlin and to wish U.S. President Barack Obama a Happy New Year's.

He would neither expel any diplomats nor close any diplomatic facilities.

Call me crazy, but I smell a bit of dramaturgy here.

The whole Russian response -- from the news reports to Peskov's warnings to Lavrov's comments to Putin's ultimate announcement -- looks more than a bit choreographed and calculated.

Part of this is domestic. It's an effort to portray Putin as the kind and wise tsar who overrides the advice of his hotheaded advisers.

Part of it is an effort to make Putin look like a magnanimous winner at home and abroad.

But most of it is part of an elaborate chess match as stewardship of the U.S. relationship passes from Obama to President-Elect Donald Trump in three weeks time.

Eric Lorber, a senior adviser at the Center on Sanctions and Illicit Finance at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told Bloomberg that the sanctions Obama announced on December 29 "likely will box in the Trump administration, if not legally then certainly politically, because it’s going to be hard for the administration to come in and say on Day One all the reports were untrue, the FBI was wrong, the CIA was wrong."

Lorber added that, "It will be difficult for the incoming administration to make that argument to the American people and say the sanctions should be completely done away with."

That would have been all the more true had Russia, as expected, responded in kind.

But he didn't.

Instead, Putin said in a statement, "In our future steps on the way toward the restoration of Russia-U.S. relations, we will proceed from the policy pursued by the administration of D. Trump."

In response to the White House's announcement of sanctions, Trump said he was ready to be updated on the facts of Russia's alleged interference in the U.S. elections but that we should all "move on."

Putin's little drama play today is an effort to nudge him to do just that.

The views expressed in this blog post do not necessarily reflect the views of RFE/RL.

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The Power Vertical
The Power Vertical

The Power Vertical is a blog written especially for Russia wonks and obsessive Kremlin watchers by Brian Whitmore. It offers Brian's personal take on emerging and developing trends in Russian politics, shining a spotlight on the high-stakes power struggles, machinations, and clashing interests that shape Kremlin policy today. Check out The Power Vertical Facebook page or

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