WASHINGTON • United States President-elect Donald Trump has praised Russian President Vladimir Putin for refraining from retaliation in a dispute over spying and cyber attacks, in another sign that the Republican plans to patch up badly frayed relations with Moscow.
Earlier last Friday, Mr Putin said he would not hit back for the US expulsion of 35 suspected Russian spies by President Barack Obama, at least until Mr Trump takes office on Jan 20.
"Great move on delay (by V. Putin) - I always knew he was very smart!" Mr Trump, later the same day, wrote on Twitter from Florida, where he is on vacation.
Russia's embassy in Washington quickly retweeted the comment, which Mr Trump pinned so it would appear at the top of his feed for several hours.
Mr Obama last Thursday ordered the expulsion of the Russians and imposed sanctions on two Russian intelligence agencies over their involvement in hacking political groups in the Nov 8 US presidential election.
Russian malware found on US utilities laptop
WASHINGTON • A code associated with a broad Russian hacking campaign dubbed Grizzly Steppe by the Obama administration has been detected on a laptop associated with a Vermont electric utility but not connected to the grid.
"We took immediate action to isolate the laptop and alerted federal officials of this finding," the Burlington Electric Department said in a statement on Friday.
The Department of Homeland Security alerted utilities on Thursday night about a malware code used in Grizzly Steppe, the Burlington Electric Department said.
"We acted quickly to scan all computers in our system for the malware signature. We detected the malware in a single Burlington Electric Department laptop not connected to our organisation's grid systems," the department said.
The malware code on the laptop may have resulted from a relatively benign episode, such as visiting a questionable website, a source familiar with the matter said, suggesting Russian hackers may not have been directly involved.
It was not clear when the incident occurred.
"This intrusion by itself waas a minor incident that caused no damage," a US intelligence official familiar with the incident and critical of Russian actions said on Friday night.
"However, we are taking it seriously because it has been tracked to familiar entities involved in a much broader and government-directed campaign in cyberspace and because the electric grid is a vulnerable and interconnected part of the nation's critical infrastructure," the official added.
"We will not expel anyone," Mr Putin said in a statement, adding that Russia reserved the right to retaliate.
"Further steps towards the restoration of Russian-American relations will be built on the basis of the policy which the administration of President D. Trump will carry out," he said.
US intelligence agencies say Russia was behind hacks into Democratic Party organisations and operatives before the presidential election. Moscow denies this. US intelligence officials say the Russian cyber attacks aimed to help Mr Trump defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton.
This week, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper will appear before lawmakers to testify about foreign cyber threats to the US - a possible opportunity for him to expand on Russia's activities.
A senior US official last Thursday said that Mr Trump could reverse Mr Obama's executive order, but doing so would be inadvisable.
And should Mr Trump seek to heal the rift with Russia, he might encounter opposition in Congress, including from fellow Republicans.
Great move on delay (by V. Putin) - I always knew he was very smart!
US PRESIDENT-ELECT DONALD TRUMP'S TWEET
COLD WAR DEJA VU
President Obama expels 35 (Russian flag) diplomats in Cold War deja vu. As everybody, incl (US flag) people, will be glad to see the last of this hapless Adm.
TWEET FROM RUSSIAN EMBASSY IN BRITAIN, in response to Mr Obama's decision, with an image of a duckling marked as "lame".
Republican John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said last Friday that Russia must face a penalty for the cyber attacks. "When you attack a country, it's an act of war," Mr McCain said in an interview with the Ukrainian TV channel "1+1" while on a visit to Kiev.
"And so we have to make sure that there is a price to pay, so that we can perhaps persuade the Russians to stop these kind of attacks on our very fundamentals of democracy," added Mr McCain, who has scheduled a hearing for Thursday on foreign cyber threats.
In small convoys of vehicles, Russians departed from two countryside vacation retreats outside Washington and New York City without fanfare last Friday, ordered out by Mr Obama.
A total of 96 Russians are expected to leave the US, including expelled diplomats and their families.
Mr Trump will find it very difficult to reverse the expulsions and lift the sanctions, given that they were based on a unanimous conclusion by US intelligence agencies, said Dr Eugene Rumer, who was the top US intelligence analyst for Russia from 2010 until 2014.
But that might not prevent Mr Trump from improving ties with Russia, said Dr Rumer, now director of the Russia and Eurasia Programme at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
"If Mr Trump wants to start the relationship anew, I don't think he needs to walk these sanctions back. He can just say this was Obama's decision," said Dr Rumer.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE