President Vladimir Putin struck an unusually conciliatory tone in his annual state of the nation address on Thursday, saying Moscow wanted to get on with the incoming U.S. administration and was looking to make friends not enemies.
Putin has used previous set-piece speeches to lash out at the West and the U.S. 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," Putin told Russia's political elite gathered in one of the Kremlin's grandest halls.
Mutually Beneficial Cooperation
"We are ready to cooperate with the new U.S. administration. We have a shared responsibility to ensure international security."
Putin has spoken previously of his hope that U.S. President-elect Donald Trump 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.
The Russian leader said he was hoping to find common ground with Washington on fighting global terrorism in particular. “I certainly count on joining efforts with the U.S. in the fight against real rather than fictional threats, international terrorism being one of them. That is the task our servicemen are fulfilling in Syria. Terrorists have suffered significant losses. The Russian Army and Navy have shown convincingly that they are capable of operating effectively away from their permanent deployment sites.”
In Syria, 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.
Any U.S.-Russia co-operation would have to be mutually beneficial and even-handed, he said.
Myths about Russian Aggression
Putin's tone may have been softer than usual, but he still made it clear that Russia would continue to robustly stand up for its own interests.
Complaining about what he said were "myths" about Russian aggression and Russian meddling in other countries' elections, he said Moscow wanted to independently decide its own fate.
"We will build our future without advice from anyone else," said Putin.
A Conversation with Europe
Russia attaches great importance to the idea of building a multi-level integration model for Eurasia in the form of a Greater Eurasian Partnership, he said. “We are already discussing this idea on various international and regional levels. I am confident that we can have conversation with the European Union countries, where the demand for political and economic independence is currently on the rise. This is what we see judging by election results.”
Putin also said he saw great potential for cooperation with the Asia-Pacific region. “Russia is proactive in its Eastern policy not because of any momentary considerations we may have, not because of the cooling in relations with the U.S. or the European Union, but for the reason that it serves Russia’s long-term interests and is consistent with the global development trends.
“In today’s challenging environment, the comprehensive partnership and strategic cooperation between Russia and China have become one of the key factors in ensuring global and regional stability. This partnership can be regarded as a model for shaping a world order free from the domination of a single country, no matter how strong it is, and taking into account the interests of all countries in harmony.
“Today, China is about to become the world’s largest economy, so it is very important that every year adds new large-scale projects in various areas, including trade, investment, energy and high technology, to our mutually beneficial cooperation.”
Developing a special privileged strategic partnership with India is another major foreign policy priority for Russia. Russia also expects to achieve substantial progress in relations with Japan.
The next presidential election takes place in 2018, and though he has not said yet if he will seek another term, Putin is widely expected to run.