DIPLOMACY: ANALYSIS
image

Donald Trump

‘Great move’: Trump praises ‘very smart’ Putin for holding off on reprisals against US

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 31 December, 2016, 10:50am
UPDATED : Saturday, 31 December, 2016, 10:53pm

US president-elect Donald Trump on Friday praised Russian President Vladimir Putin for not quickly hitting back at Washington for the punitive measures imposed over alleged interference in the November election.

“Great move on delay (by V. Putin) – I always knew he was very smart!” Trump tweeted.

Russia’s embassy in Washington quickly retweeted the comment, which Trump pinned so it would appear at the top of his feed for several hours.

Also on Friday, a code associated with the Russian hacking operation dubbed Grizzly Steppe by President Barack Obama’s administration has been detected within the system of a Vermont utility, according to US officials.

While the Russians did not actively use the code to disrupt operations, according to officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a security matter, the discovery underscores the vulnerabilities of the nation’s electrical grid. And it raises fears in the US government that Russian government hackers are actively trying to penetrate the grid to carry out potential attacks.

“We took immediate action to isolate the laptop and alerted federal officials of this finding,” the Burlington Electric Department said in a statement.

“Our team is working with federal officials to trace this malware and prevent any other attempts to infiltrate utility systems. We have briefed state officials and will support the investigation fully.”

It was not clear when the incident occurred.

Trump’s tweet enraged his Democratic foes as well as some members of his own Republican Party.

“@realDonaldTrump alternates between embracing Russian subversion & downplaying it, but his support for Putin is constant. We must know why,” wrote Evan McMullin, who ran as an independent presidential candidate after serving as policy director for the House Republican Conference.

Claire McCaskill, a Democrat who serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee, wrote: “Our ENTIRE cyber intel community,best in world btw, agrees that this guy tried to mess in our election & the Russians are RT TrumpPutin love.”

Earlier, the Russian leader ruled out any immediate tit-for-tat expulsions of American officials in the row over what Washington says were “efforts to harm US interests” in connection with the November 8 election won by the Republican.

Putin’s own foreign ministry had recommended that he eject 35 American officials to counterbalance US President Barack Obama’s move on Thursday to expel 35 Russian intelligence operatives and shut down two Russian compounds in the US.

Trump, who succeeds Obama on January 20, has repeatedly praised Putin and made a number of cabinet picks with ties to Russia.

The FBI and CIA have concluded that Russian intelligence agencies oversaw the hacking and leaking of emails from Democratic Party organisations under Kremlin orders this year in order to benefit Trump’s campaign against Hillary Clinton.

In the past, the president-elect has ridiculed US intelligence about Russia’s cyber-meddling, saying it was not clear who conducted the attacks.

He has long treated such accusations as a thinly veiled effort by a Democratic president to delegitimise a Republican victory.

Later Friday, Trump went on to mock two US television networks, apparently over their coverage of the US-Russia jousting, tweeting that “Russians are playing @CNN and @NBCNEws for such fools – funny to watch, they don’t have a clue! @FoxNewstotally gets it!”

On Wednesday, he issued a call for the country to “move on to bigger and better things,” but said he would meet with US intelligence leaders next week to be “updated on the facts of this situation”.

While Trump has already received intelligence briefings about the election and substantial evidence is in the public sphere, his pledge to meet with intelligence chiefs could provide a face-saving opportunity to further soften his stance.

Also next week, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper will appear before lawmakers to testify about foreign cyber threats to the United States – a possible opportunity for him to expand on Russia’s activities.

Additional reporting by Washington