BRIDGEWATER (New Jersey) • President Donald Trump has offered gratitude rather than outrage for Russia's decision to force the US Embassy in Moscow to slash its personnel by 755 people, despite bipartisan US condemnation of the Cold War-style move.
Russian President Vladimir Putin last month ordered the seizure of two US diplomatic properties and directed the US Embassy staff in Russia to be cut by more than half, in retaliation for sanctions imposed by the US Congress over Russia's alleged meddling in last year's American presidential election.
"I want to thank him because we are trying to cut down on payroll, and as far as I'm concerned, I'm very thankful that he let go of a large number of people, because now we have a smaller payroll," Mr Trump told reporters on Thursday at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey.
"There's no real reason for them to go back. So I greatly appreciate the fact that we have been able to cut our payroll... We'll save a lot of money," he said with a somewhat light tone, but it was not clear if he was joking. His comment was in keeping with his practice of not criticising Mr Putin - no matter how tense relations between the two countries have grown.
Mr Trump has repeatedly praised Mr Putin as a strong leader who has done good things for Russia. Challenged once by a Fox News interviewer about whether Mr Putin was actually a killer, given the repeated slayings of opposition leaders and journalists in Russia, Mr Trump defended the Kremlin leader by saying: "There are a lot of killers. You think our country's so innocent?"
Congresswoman Kathleen Rice chastised Mr Trump on Twitter for his latest comments. "This is insulting to US diplomats," she wrote. "Also, really, really stupid. Diplomats don't get fired for getting kicked out of a hostile foreign country."