Kremlin says Putin ready for dialogue if US willing

Then Russian PM Vladimir Putin (right) greeting then US Vice-President Joe Biden in Moscow, on March 10, 2011. PHOTO: REUTERS

MOSCOW (REUTERS) - Russia is ready to set up a dialogue with the new Biden administration in which differences are expected to be aired, a Kremlin spokesman said on Sunday (Jan 24), adding that President Vladimir Putin would respond in kind to US willingness to talk.

Relations between Moscow and Washington have been at their lowest since the end of the Cold War, with the two sides at odds over Russia's role in Ukraine and allegations of its meddling in US elections, which it denies, among other issues.

The United States on Saturday also called on Russian authorities to release protesters and journalists detained at demonstrations supporting detained Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, and condemned what it called "harsh tactics" used against them.

Police detained more than 3,000 people and used force to break up rallies across Russia as tens of thousands braved bitter cold to join protests in support of Navalny.

"Of course, we count on success in setting up a dialogue," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted as saying on TV by Interfax news agency.

"This will be the dialogue where, of course, differences will have to be stated to a greater extent, points of differences. But at the same time, a dialogue is a possibility to find some rational kernels, the little parts where our relations are getting closer," he said.

"And if the current US administration is ready for such an approach, I have no doubts that our President will respond in kind."

Mr Putin was one of the last global leaders to congratulate Mr Joe Biden on his victory in the US presidential election after the Nov 3 vote.

One of the burning issues to be resolved by the two nuclear powers is the arms control treaty, known as New START, which is due to expire on Feb 5.

The White House said last week that Mr Biden would seek a five-year extension to the deal, while the Kremlin requested concrete proposals from Washington.

Mr Peskov also appeared to be using a more conciliatory tone on Sunday than the Russian Foreign Ministry, which a day earlier described Washington's public support for anti-Kremlin protesters as meddling in Russia's domestic affairs.

Mr Peskov reiterated the point on Sunday, but softened it by using the words "indirect interference".

At the same time, he said protests were illegal and protesters were far outnumbered by voters who supported Mr Putin.

Washington was joined by the European Union and Britain in condemning the security forces' handling of Saturday's protests, and France's Foreign Minister on Sunday said the arrests were jeopardising the rule of law in Russia and called for sanctions.

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