MOSCOW – In a conciliatory state-of-the-nation address, Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday voiced hope for mending a rift with the U.S. and pooling efforts in fighting terrorism.
The speech reflected Moscow’s hope that President-elect Donald Trump could help repair ties with Washington that have sunk to a post-Cold War low over the crisis in Ukraine, the Syria war and other disputes.
Putin emphasized that friendly relations between the two superpowers are essential for global stability.
“Russia-U.S. co-operation in solving global and regional problems answers the interests of the entire world,” he said. “We share responsibility for ensuring global security and stability and strengthening the non-proliferation regime.”
Putin’s live address contrasted with some of his recent speeches, in which he launched scathing attacks on the U.S. and its allies.
Tensions escalated during the U.S. election campaign, when President Barack Obama’s administration accused Moscow of hacking American political sites and email accounts in an effort to interfere with the vote. The Kremlin has rejected the accusations.
Putin noted in his speech that Russia has 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,” a reference to doping scandals.
But he also emphasized that Russia bears no grudge against the West and is open for a “friendly and equal” dialogue on global issues.
“We don’t want confrontation with anyone,” he told an audience of senior officials and lawmakers in an ornate, white-marble Kremlin hall.
“Unlike our foreign colleagues who are seeing Russia as an enemy, we have never been looking for enemies. We need friends,” Putin said. “But we won’t allow any infringement on our interests and neglect of them.”
He said that Russia is “ready for co-operation with the new American administration,” and hopes to pool efforts with the U.S. in combating international terrorism.
“Our servicemen in Syria are fulfilling that task,” Putin added.
Russia has conducted an air campaign in support of Syrian President Bashar Assad, helping his forces make significant gains, most recently in Aleppo, Syria’s largest city before the war.
In a phone call on Nov. 16, Trump told Putin that he looks forward to “a strong and enduring relationship with Russia and the people of Russia,” according to his transition team.
Putin said that Russia is open to a “friendly and equal dialogue” about global security. He pointed to the European migration crisis as an example of even “seemingly prosperous countries and stable regions” facing new divisions.
He mentioned an intention to develop stronger ties with China and India, adding that it’s dictated by long-term interests rather than a strain on Russia’s ties with the U.S. and the European Union.
Putin mostly focused his speech on economic and social issues, saying 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 $16 billion, surpassing 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.
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, creating a more favourable business environment and offering new incentives to high-tech industries.
Alexei Navalny, a leading opposition figure, said that Putin’s speech sounded dull as he muted his criticism of the West.
“For obvious reasons — Trump’s victory, the successes of right-wing politicians in Europe, the talk about the sanctions lifting soon — it was impossible to keep shouting about Russia being encircled by enemies,” Navalny said on his blog. “That made the speech quite hollow. There are just lies about ‘successes’ and promises that have been given for 17 years.”
In his speech, Putin also emphasized the need for a strong government, warning that political divisions lead to turmoil. 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.