Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday appeared to cosy up to US President-elect Donald Trump while asserting his authority as the key powerbroker in Syria.
At his annual end-of-year press conference, the confident Kremlin strongman praised Trump for tapping into the public mood in the US to claim his surprise win in November.
“He went to the end, though nobody believed that he would win except us,” Putin said.
Ties between Moscow and Washington hit their lowest point since the Cold War under President Barack Obama due to the Ukraine crisis and Russia’s military intervention in Syria.
But the election of Trump, who praised Putin as a strong leader, has provided a surprise boost for the Kremlin, with the Russian economy still struggling due to Western sanctions and lower oil prices.
“Trump during the campaign was saying that he thinks it’s right to normalise Russian-American ties and said it for sure won’t get worse as it can’t get any worse,” Putin said.
“I agree and together we’ll think about how to make them better,” he said, adding he would head to the US for talks if Trump invited him.
Officials in the US have accused Russia of cyber attacks aimed at interfering with the US vote, with some alleging Moscow sought to tip the balance in favour of Trump.
Putin followed Trump and rejected the allegations, insisting “as the President-elect said entirely correctly, who knows who these hackers were?”
The Russian leader also sought to play down a potential nuclear stand-off with the future US president, a day after they both pledged to bolster their nuclear capabilities.
Putin insisted there was “nothing unusual” about Trump’s call in a tweet Thursday to bolster America’s nuclear capability, hours after the Russian leader ordered his top brass to strengthen Moscow’s “nuclear potential”.
“We will never look to be dragged into an armed race and to spend resources that we can’t afford,” Putin said, after insisting he understood the US was the stronger military power. “We just say that we are stronger than any aggressor”.