Putin congratulates Trump on victory, seeks better ties

By Henry Meyer, Stepan Kravchenko and Ilya Arkhipov, Bloomberg - November 9, 2016

President Vladimir Putin congratulated Donald Trump on his victory in the U.S. presidential election and said he would do everything he could to repair ties between the two countries after their most serious standoff since the Cold War.

“Russia is ready and wants to restore full-scale relations with the U.S.,” Putin said at a Kremlin ceremony Wednesday to accept new ambassadors’ credentials. “We understand it will be a difficult path, but we are ready to play our part.”

Russia's President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attend a ceremony of receiving diplomatic credentials from foreign ambassadors at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, November 9, 2016. (Sergei Karpukhin / Reuters)
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attend a ceremony of receiving diplomatic credentials from foreign ambassadors at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, November 9, 2016. (Sergei Karpukhin / Reuters)

The Russian leader praised Trump as a “colorful” personality during the election campaign and welcomed his pledge to improve the relationship with Moscow. Trump has said he’s willing to work with Putin on fighting Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. He also said he’d consider recognizing Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea as well as lifting sanctions that the U.S. imposed along with the European Union over the land grab and Russia’s clandestine military intervention in eastern Ukraine.

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European leaders, especially in the former-Soviet Baltic states, have been alarmed since Trump said he’d only honor the U.S. commitment to defend fellow NATO countries if the alliance’s members have paid their dues.

Trump’s defeated Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, had accused the Republican of being a Kremlin “puppet” after U.S. authorities accused Russia of hacking into Democratic National Convention emails to influence the outcome of the vote. Putin and Clinton have clashed in the past, with the Russian leader blaming her for inciting the biggest protests of his rule when she criticized 2011 parliamentary elections as secretary of state.

Putin sent Trump a telegram Wednesday in which he expressed “hope for joint efforts to bring Russian-American ties out of crisis, resolve key international questions and find an effective response to the challenges of global security,” the Kremlin said in an emailed statement.

Lawmakers in Russia lost no time in welcoming the news, with members of the lower house of parliament bursting into applause when Trump’s victory was announced. Alexei Pushkov, a senator and former head of the assembly’s foreign-affairs committee, said that Ukraine and its pro-western President Petro Poroshenko would be a major loser from the result. “Trump may turn away from Poroshenko,” he said on his Twitter account.

State TV, which had given lavish coverage to Trump’s campaign, aired interviews with a series of pro-Kremlin politicians who praised the election of the billionaire real-estate developer.

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Still, some voices in Russia were cautious about the chance of a breakthrough in ties, given the hostility in the U.S. foreign-policy establishment and Congress to Russia. “Trump won’t be able make any sweeping changes as the establishment will rein him in,” said Alexei Mukhin, head of the Center for Political Information in Moscow, even as he expressed hope for an easing of sanctions and a joint fight against Islamic State.

Trump has also raised concerns about his unpredictability in Moscow, mixing his promise of better ties with threats to shoot down Russian warplanes that buzz U.S. warships.

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Putin clashed with President Barack Obama over Ukraine, Russian support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and what he sees as NATO encroachment on Moscow’s backyard in eastern Europe. He said in his message to Trump that constructive dialogue would depend on the U.S. treating his country on the basis of “equality, mutual respect and a genuine consideration of each other’s positions.”

Russia will judge the new Trump administration by its actions rather than rhetoric and will “respond in kind,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters.