In his annual address to the nation, Russian President Vladimir Putin struck an unusually conciliatory tone on Thursday, saying Moscow wanted to get on with the incoming U.S. administration and was looking to make friends not enemies: “We are ready to cooperate with the new U.S. administration. We have a shared responsibility to ensure international security.”
“We don’t want confrontation with anyone. We don’t need it. We are not seeking and have never sought enemies. We need friends,” Putin told Russia’s political elite gathered in the Kremlin’s grand hall.
This year’s speech is a marked contrast to prior addresses, in which Putin lashed out at the West and the United States in particular. He did however note that any U.S.-Russia co-operation would have to be mutually beneficial and even-handed. Shortly after Trump’s victory, Putin said the President-elect may help restore tattered U.S.-Russia relations, and analysts said he was unlikely to want to dial up anti-Western rhetoric before Trump’s inauguration in January.
Putin also said he was hoping to find common ground with Washington on fighting global terrorism, a reference to Syria where Moscow is backing President Bashar al-Assad, while the outgoing U.S. administration has supported anti-Assad rebels. Russia hopes Trump will give Russia a freer hand there and cooperate militarily to fight Islamic State.
“We hope to unite our forces with the United States in the fight against the real threat, not the fictional one – international terrorism,” he said. The president also emphasized the need “to strengthen non-proliferation regimes,” noting that “attempts to upset the strategic balance are extremely dangerous and could lead to a global catastrophe.”
The tide has now turned in the Syrian conflict in favor of Putin’s ally, President Bashar al-Assad, whose grip on the Middle East country is increasing as Trump seems set to cut back support for rebel groups and focus U.S. efforts on fighting Islamic State.
The Russian leader also expressed hope of a better relationship with European countries. “Unlike some of our foreign colleagues, who see Russia as an opponent, we aren’t looking for enemies and never have done, we need friends,” Putin said, however he added that “we will not allow any infringement on the interests of the Russian Federation and we will manage our own destiny without tips and unsolicited advice.”
This too contrasted sharply with last year’s speech, when Putin lashed out at Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erodogan after his air force shot down a Russian warplane near the border with Syria. Since then Russian relations with Turkey have seen a vast improvement.
Putin reached out to the entire world when he said that he stands for “the safety and the possibility of development, not for just the chosen few, but for all countries and peoples, for respect for international law and the diversity of the world.”
The president also said that Russia’s policy towards its Asian partners, China and Japan, is not opportunistic or a response to the deterioration in US-relations, but based on Russia’s plans for long-term development. “Once again, I stress that Russia’s active [Asia] policy is not dictated by some opportunistic considerations of today, not even by the cooling in relations with the United States or the European Union, but by long-term national interests and trends of global development,” the president said.
The Russian leader devoted much of his more than hour-long speech to the economy as he prepares to seek re-election in early 2018, blaming domestic factors for holding up growth, including a lack of investment, inadequate competition and shortcomings in the business climate, very much as has been the recent case in the US. There’ll be an “insignificant” decline in Russia’s economy this year after a contraction of 3.7 percent in 2015, Putin said. Inflation should end the year at a record low of less than 6 percent, then slow to the central bank’s 4 percent target in 2017, he said. The country’s difficulties over the last two years have only made it stronger, he said.
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