Russia signaled Friday it might be willing to drop its diplomatic feud with the United States, despite initial promises of retaliation, according to top officials.
"We understand that efforts are being made to corner them [the Trump administration] at every opportunity, so we don't believe it is necessary to take any active steps concerning relations with the U.S.," Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Friday morning, according to state-run media.
"[S]omebody should display common sense and put an end to the grave condition of our bilateral relations," Yuri Ushakov, an aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin, added in separate remarks.
Putin's team initially said Russia could not let the insult pass "without retaliation." But Ushakov's statement dovetails with a similar gesture from Russia's top diplomat. The remarks might encourage State Department officials, who ordered Russia to close three diplomatic facilities while also arguing for an end to the tit-for-tat.
Lavrov absolved Trump, who opposed legislation sanctioning Russia over the 2016 election interference as well as the invasion of Ukraine and military support for Syrian President Bashar Assad. That bill passed with overwhelming support in Congress. "They sought to rupture Russian-U.S. relations and prevent U.S. President Donald Trump from putting forward any constructive proposals," Lavrov said.
Lawmakers drafted the legislation in part out of worry that Trump would ease relations with Putin's team without holding Russia responsible for its recent aggression. The new law built on the sanctions that then-President Barack Obama imposed in December when he closed two Russian facilities and expelled 35 officials accused of working as spies under diplomatic cover.
Obama's move was a response to the Russian interference in the 2016 elections, as well as the harassment of U.S. officials working in Russia. State-run media played footage, for instance, of an American being attacked outside the U.S. embassy by a Russian guard. Putin delayed retaliating against that decision, but then ordered a major reduction in the number of State Department personnel in Russia after Congress passed the new sanctions.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson implemented that decision, but also closed three additional Russian facilities in the United States.
But Putin's political image depends on his reputation as a strong leader vis a vis the West, so even a conciliatory policy might be accompanied by aggressive rhetoric.
"It's a raider seizure," Ushakov also said. "We'll think over to how we'll respond."