“We are ready to cooperate with the new American administration,” the Russian president said in his state of the nation address to an assembly of lawmakers and officials. “It’s important to normalise and start to develop our bilateral relations on an equal and mutually beneficial basis.”
US-Russian ties have been frigid following sanctions against Russia over the Ukraine crisis and support for Syrian rebels fighting Russia’s ally Bashar al-Assad. But Trump has praised Putin’s leadership saying it would be “nice” to work with him to defeat the Islamic State, and in their first conversation after the election, Putin appeared to emphasise the potential for cooperation.
Putin returned to the theme in his speech on Thursday: “Of course I am counting on joining forces with the United States in the fight with the real, not made-up, threat of international terrorism,” he said.
He added that thanks to the bombing campaign in Syria, where Russia and Assad’s forces are engaged in a bloody push to take Aleppo, “terrorists have been dealt a palpable blow”.
A Russian diplomat said on Wednesday that Moscow has been in contact with Trump’s transition team about Syria.
Putin made a few jibes at his opponents in the west, saying that “unlike some foreign colleagues”, Russia was looking for friends rather than enemies. But he was less strident in his criticism than in past addresses. In 2014, he accused the west of trying to contain and weaken Russia for decades. In 2015, he lashed out at western meddling and regime change in the Middle East.
In this year’s speech, Putin said the United States and Russia had a “shared responsibility” to ensure international security and nuclear nonproliferation, noting that “attempts to break strategic parity are extremely dangerous”. During his campaign, Trump suggested Japan and South Korea should develop nuclear weapons, although he later appeared to backtrack on that statement.
Putin also stressed Russia’s growing ties with China, holding them up as a model for a “world order built not on the idea of domination by one country, no matter how strong, but on harmonious consideration of all states’ interests”.
Ahead of the hundredth anniversary of the October Revolution next year, Putin warned against similar actions to create “schisms, animosity, resentments” in the national unity. He said Russia cannot grow with a “weak government and a pliant regime directed from outside”.
The lion’s share of the speech was dedicated to domestic issues, with Putin arguing that the economy was gradually emerging from recession and sectors like agriculture and IT were growing. He touched on the traditional topic of corruption and said the ruling United Russia party had a “special responsibility” to represent constituents after winning a constitutional majority in parliament in September. Discussing healthcare, Putin did not mention Russia’s growing HIV epidemic though Thursday was World Aids Day.
According to popular blogger Ilya Varlamov, the audience burst into applause 15 times during the 69-minute speech, the lowest amount of clapping at the state of the nation address since 2005.
Author: Alec Luhn