Vladimir Putin gives unusually positive address to Russia over Trump future

Putin has spoken previously of hope the President-elect may help restore tattered US-Russia relations

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The Independent Online

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said he is “ready to cooperate” with Donald Trump's administration as he struck an unusually conciliatory tone in his annual state of the nation address.

Despite using previous set-piece speeches to attack the West and the United States in particular, Mr Putin said Moscow was looking to make friends, not enemies.

“We don't want confrontation with anyone. We don't need it. We are not seeking and have never sought enemies. We need friends,” Mr Putin told Russia's political elite, as they gathered in one of the Kremlin's grandest halls.

“We are ready to cooperate with the new US administration. We have a shared responsibility to ensure international security.” 

Any cooperation between the US and Russia would have to be mutually beneficial and even-handed, he added, giving a sense that Russia could still react strong if neccessary. “We won't allow any infringement on our interests and neglect of them,” he said.

Going further, Mr Putin said that any attempt to disrupt this “strategic parity” are “extremely dangerous and can lead to a global catastrophe”.

Tensions between Russia and the US have reached a fever pitch in recent times – hence Mr Putin's reference to the fact that distant relations could bring "catastrophe" – with the annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and Russia's recent role in the Syrian civil war being particular sore spots. US accusations that Russia was trying to disrupt the last month's presidential election in the US won by Mr Trump also riled the Kremlin. 

Russia's President made reference to this in his address:“In the last few years. we have faced attempts of foreign pressure with all tools involved — from the myths about Russian aggression, [allegations] of meddling in elections to the hounding of our athletes,” Mr Putin said, referring to doping scandals. 

But a somewhat-restoration of diplomatic ties could prove beneficial for both the US and Russia with the German foreign minister warning in October that the current situation between the two countries was "more dangerous" than during the Cold War.

Mr Putin has spoken previously of his hope President-elect Trump may help restore tattered US-Russia relations, and analysts said he was unlikely to want to dial up anti-Western rhetoric before Mr Trump's inauguration in January.

The Russian leader said he was hoping to find common ground with Washington on fighting global terrorism in particular – a reference to Syria, where Moscow is backing President Bashar al-Assad, while the outgoing US administration has supported anti-Assad rebels.

Russia hopes Mr Trump will give the Kremlin a freer hand there and cooperate militarily to fight Isis.

However, Russia has been predominantly focused on an air campaign in support of the Assad regime, helping his forces make significant gains in the country's nearly six-year civil war, most recently in Aleppo. 

The UN has warned the city is at risk of becoming "one giant graveyard" as Syrian forces and allies from Iran and Hezbollah, backed by Russian air strikes, seized control of around 40 per cent of rebel-held territory, causing an estimated 50,000 civilians to flee.

The US and others have accused Russia of potential war crimes over the deaths of civilians – something the Kremlin has denied – but there is no doubt that civilians have died in the bombardment and Russia's international standing.

Putin jokes that 'Russian borders don't end'.

 

On the Ukraine front, another source of discord with the US – Russia's foreign ministry has warned Ukranian missile tests taking place near Russian-annexed Crimea were a "dangerous precedent", the Interfax news agency reported.

Ukraine's military said on Thursday its two-day missile drills, which have already begun, would avoid airspace over Crimea, sidestepping a possible confrontation with Russia.

Last week the EU parliament voted on a resolution aimed at countering “disinformation” and “hostile propaganda” from Moscow, in a move criticised by Mr Putin.

The Russian President pointed to the European refugee and migrant crisis as an example of even “seemingly prosperous countries and stable regions” facing new divisions, and spoke out about the fact that Russia should avoid such internal strife.

He drew attention to the approaching centennial of Russia's 1917 revolution as a reminder of the need to secure national unity and accord. “It's inadmissible to bring divisions, malice, resentment and bitterness of the past into our life today,” he said. 

In a speech that was mostly focused on internal economic and social issues, Putin said that the Russian economy is on the way to recovery, pointing at a growth in some sectors of industry and agriculture. He said agricultural exports this year will top $16bn (£12.7bn), exceeding weapons exports. 

The Russian economy contracted 3.7 per cent in 2015 and the recession has continued this year under the combined blow of low oil prices and Western sanctions. 

Mr Putin noted that inflation, which stood at nearly 13 per cent last year, is expected to slow down to 6 per cent this year. 

He said the government should encourage growth by cutting red tape and creating a more favourable business environment. 

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