Putin reins in anti-West rhetoric

President Vladimir Putin struck an unusually conciliatory tone in his annual state of the nation address, saying Moscow wanted to get on with the incoming US administration and was looking to make friends not enemies.
Syrian pro-government forces atop a military vehicle driving past residents fleeing the eastern part of Aleppo. Russia and Turkey, which back opposing sides in Syria's war, have agreed on the need to halt the fighting and provide aid to war-torn Alep
Syrian pro-government forces atop a military vehicle driving past residents fleeing the eastern part of Aleppo. Russia and Turkey, which back opposing sides in Syria's war, have agreed on the need to halt the fighting and provide aid to war-torn Aleppo.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Syrian pro-government forces atop a military vehicle driving past residents fleeing the eastern part of Aleppo. Russia and Turkey, which back opposing sides in Syria's war, have agreed on the need to halt the fighting and provide aid to war-torn Alep
Russian president Vladimir Putin, in his annual state of the nation address.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Russian leader pledges to work with US govt, finds common ground with Turkey on Syria

MOSCOW • Russian President Vladimir Putin struck an unusually conciliatory tone in his annual state of the nation address, saying Moscow wanted to get on with the incoming US administration and was looking to make friends, not enemies.

On Turkey, Russia also sounded an apparent placatory note. The two are backers of opposing sides in Syria's civil war, and Istanbul and Moscow had agreed on the need to halt the fighting and provide aid to war-torn Aleppo.

In the past, Mr Putin used his state of the nation speeches to lash out at the West and the United States in particular, but he reined in his criticism this time round and focused most of his speech on domestic social and economic issues.

"We don't want confrontation with anyone. We don't need it. We are not seeking and have never sought enemies. We need friends," he told Russia's political elite 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 US-Russia cooperation would have to be mutually beneficial and even-handed, he said.

Mr Putin has previously spoken of his hope that US President-elect Donald Trump may help restore tattered US-Russia relations, and analysts said he was unlikely to want to dial up anti-West rhetoric before Mr Trump's inauguration next month. The Russian leader said he was hoping to find common ground with Washington on fighting global terrorism in particular.

SEEKING 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.

RUSSIAN PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN, in his annual state of the nation address.

That was a reference to Syria where Moscow is backing President Bashar al-Assad, while, like Turkey, the outgoing US administration has supported anti-Assad rebels.

Russia hopes Mr Trump will give Russia a freer hand there and cooperate militarily to fight the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Mr Putin's tone may have been softer than usual, but he still made it clear that Russia would continue to stand up for its own interests.

Complaining about what he said were "myths" about Russian aggression and Russian meddling in other countries' elections, Mr Putin said Moscow wanted to independently decide its own fate.

"We will build our future without advice from anyone else," he said.

The main target of Mr Putin's speech appeared to be the Russian people though.

His message was that the worst of a grinding economic crisis was in the past and that it was now time to focus on improving living standards by investing more heavily in education and health.

The next presidential election is in 2018, and though he has not said if he will seek another term, Mr Putin is widely expected to run.

On the Syrian issue, Mr Putin discussed the situation in Aleppo with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan by phone for the third time in a week on Wednesday, and agreed on the need for a ceasefire, sources in Mr Erdogan's office said.

While remaining divided on Mr Assad's future, Ankara and Moscow have been trying to find common ground on Syria since a rapprochement in August.

Yesterday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said he and his visiting Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov also agreed on the need to stop the bloodshed.

"A ceasefire must be achieved in all of Syria, notably in Aleppo," Mr Cavusoglu told a joint news conference in the town of Alanya.

Mr Lavrov said that Moscow was ready to talk to all parties in the war, and that it would continue cooperating with Turkey. But he also vowed Russia would continue its operations in eastern Aleppo and would rescue the city from what he described as terrorists.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 02, 2016, with the headline 'Putin reins in anti-West rhetoric'. Print Edition | Subscribe