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U.S.-Russian Relations on Thorny Path at Dawn of 2017 | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin share a toast during the luncheon at the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

REUTERS/Mikhail Metzel/RIA Novosti/Pool

Moscow – Dozens of Russian diplomats expelled from the United States due to Moscow’s alleged interference in the White House election landed back in their homeland Monday.

The 35 envoys were ordered out of the U.S. in retaliation for what President Barack Obama’s Administration said were cyber attacks directed by “the highest levels of the Russian government.”

Russia’s state-run TASS news agency said the diplomats and their families departed Washington’s Dulles International Airport on Sunday and arrived in Moscow early Monday.

Children of the Russian diplomats were later invited to a holiday gathering at the Kremlin.

Obama ordered the expulsion of 35 Russian suspected spies and imposed sanctions on two Russian intelligence agencies over the alleged hacking of U.S. political groups during the 2016 presidential election.

Russian President Vladimir Putin decided not to expel anyone in retaliation, saying he would consider the actions of President-elect Donald Trump, who takes office on Jan. 20, when deciding on further steps in Russia-U.S. relations.

In earlier remarks, Trump praised Putin as “very smart” for not engaging in a retaliatory row with the U.S. over the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats accused of espionage.

Trump was expected to meet with intelligence agencies this week after he returns to New York on Sunday.

He said he would disclose some information on the issue on Tuesday or Wednesday, without elaborating.

The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee said on a program aired on ABC channel that the Congress would push for an even harsher reprisal against Russia and warned Trump against undoing Obama’s sanctions.

“We think that more has to be done. We don’t think that frankly the steps that have been taken are enough of a deterrent,” said Representative Adam Schiff, a California Democrat, as quoted by Reuters. “And you’re going to see bipartisan support in Congress for stronger sanctions against Russia,” he added.