Russia is “not seeking conflict with anyone”, President Vladimir Putin has said in his annual Kremlin speech to parliament and the nation.
“Unlike some foreign colleagues who see Russia as the enemy, we do not seek – and never sought – enemies. We need friends,” he said. But “we will not permit harm to our interests”, he added. He said Russia was ready to work with the new US administration to fight terrorism.
Mr Putin has previously said he hopes for better relations with the US once President-elect Donald Trump takes office. He praised the courage of Russian military personnel fighting rebel groups in Syria, in support of President Bashar al-Assad – and drew applause in the ornate Kremlin hall. “Of course I’m counting on joint efforts with the US in fighting a real – not invented – threat, that is, international terrorism,” he said.
He also warned that any attempt to “break the strategic parity” could be globally catastrophic – an apparent reference to the Russian-US nuclear balance.
US and EU politicians have criticised the heavy Russian bombing campaign in Syria, especially in Aleppo. They say Russia should strike harder against so-called Islamic State (IS), instead of backing President Assad’s forces, who are accused of grave human rights abuses.
Mr Putin also saw scope for better relations with some EU countries, despite the EU sanctions imposed because of Russia’s intervention in Ukraine. He spoke of widening the Russian-led Eurasian partnership, saying: “I’m convinced that this conversation is possible with states of the European Union, where there is growing demand for an independent, subjective, political and economic course. And we see that in the results of elections.”
Most of his speech focused on Russia’s economic and social challenges. On the problem of corruption he said “it has become an unfortunate practice here to whip up a media frenzy around so-called high-profile cases”. “The fight against corruption is not for show,” he stressed.
Last month Russia’s Economy Minister Alexei Ulyukayev was charged with taking a $2m (£1.6m) bribe to endorse a state takeover in the oil industry. He pleaded not guilty to the charge. He is the highest-ranking Russian official held since the 1991 coup attempt in what was then the USSR.
Mr Putin also said Russia was putting in place an outstanding anti-doping system, in the wake of the Olympic doping scandal. In a humiliating blow to Russian sporting pride, Russian athletes were banned from the 2016 Rio Olympics and Paralympics because of allegations of doping.