On Thursday, President Trump thanked Russian President Putin for asking the U.S. to reduce its diplomatic staff in Moscow. Trump’s latest remark could renew criticism of the Republican President mild handling of the Russia issue.

After being silent for almost two weeks on Putin’s order that the U.S. slashes its staff in its embassy and consulate in Russia. Trump said he was very thankful to the Russian President for ordering the scaling down because it will go a long way in reducing the payroll of the mission.

Trump pleased with Russia’s decision

He added that there is no genuine reason for Moscow to rescind its decision and the U.S. will be saving a lot of money. Trump’s response sharply differs from reactions by formers presidents who encountered similar circumstances.

The President’s comment goes against the official position of the State Department which described Russia’s order as regrettable and uncalled-for.

Special counsel Robert Mueller and congressional committees are currently probing U.S. intelligence agencies’ conclusions that Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election by engaging in hacking and other means to sway the election in favor of Trump, an allegation that both Trump and Moscow has repeatedly denied.

In response to Russia sanctions legislation overwhelmingly passed by Congress and grudgingly signed by President Trump, Putin ordered the United States cut down its embassy and consulate staff by 755 out of the current 1200 employees by September.

Retaliatory measures

The measure was also retaliation for the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats by the Obama administration in the U.S.

in December last year over Moscow alleged meddling in last year’s election.

Trump has repeatedly for improved relations with Russia; he declined to criticize Kremlin and refused to endorse the intelligence agencies findings.

Trump Thursday’s comments were swiftly criticized by former U.S. officials who served both in Democratic and Republican administrations.

A former U.S. diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity said the State Department was rattled and horrified by the President’s unwarranted comments.

Former Department of State official Heather Conley said the expulsion of staff from an important American embassy is disheartening. He added that it is saddening for the President to regard the expulsions as a positive development.

During the 2016 election, Trump invited Russian experts to dig up hundreds of from Hillary Clinton which were missing when she was secretary of state; an act that prompted Democrats to accuse him of bringing in foreign spies to the country.