35 Expelled Russian Diplomats and Families Arrive Back in Moscow

Image: Vehicles pull up to a Russian aircraft to load freight
Vehicles pull up to a Russian aircraft to load freight on Dec. 31, 2016, in Sterling, Virginia. The special flight arrived to pickup Russian diplomats expelled by US President Barack Obama as part of sanctions imposed on Russia for suspected cyber attacks during the U.S. election.PAUL J. RICHARDS / AFP - Getty Images

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By Abigail Williams, Alex Johnson and Maria Stromova

Dozens of Russian diplomats expelled from the United States as punishment for Moscow's alleged interference in the White House election landed back in their homeland Monday, state media said.

The envoys were ordered out of the U.S. in retaliation for what the Obama administration said were cyber attacks directed by "the highest levels of the Russian government."

The diplomats and their families departed Washington's Dulles International Airport on Sunday and arrived in Moscow early Monday, according to Russia's state-run TASS news agency.

On arrival, the diplomats' children were invited to the Kremlin's New Year and Christmas celebrations, according to TASS.

Russian President Vladimir Putin condemned the expulsion but declined his own foreign minister's guidance to retaliate, choosing not to expel American diplomats stationed in Russia.

President Barack Obama ordered the diplomats out of the country Thursday. He also imposed sanctions on two suspected hackers and three companies that allegedly provided support to cyber operations by Russia's GRU intelligence service.

Related: What Went On in Russia's Shuttered U.S. Compounds?

The CIA has concluded that the interference was intended to help Donald Trump win the election, and NBC News has reported that intelligence officials believe "with a high level of confidence" that Russian President Vladimir Putin was personally involved in the covert campaign.

"All Americans should be alarmed by Russia’s actions," Obama's statement said Thursday. "These data theft and disclosure activities could only have been directed by the highest levels of the Russian government."

Alexander Smith contributed.