Russia shrugs off McCain's criticism

MOSCOW (Reuters) - A senior Russian Foreign Ministry official on Tuesday shrugged off anti-Russian remarks by U.S. presidential candidate John McCain and said Moscow could handle any unwanted turn in relations with Washington.

Republican McCain, who will fight Democratic candidate Barack Obama in the November election, has angered Russia by suggesting it should be excluded from the Group of Eight leading nations for falling short of its high democracy standards.

“Let him first become the U.S. president, and then we will listen attentively to him,” the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told a news briefing.

In the past few years Moscow and Washington clashed over a growing number of key international issues ranging from Iran’s nuclear program to U.S. plans to deploy elements of its missile defense system in Eastern Europe.

But good personal relations between the presidents of the two countries have helped to keep up the dialogue, viewed in both capitals as crucial for international stability.

Russia’s Dmitry Medvedev, who took office in May, and U.S. George W. Bush, who will hand over powers to a successor in January, agreed during their last meeting in Japan earlier this month that continuity should be ensured in bilateral ties.

Russian officials say McCain’s suggestions that Washington should adopt a tougher stance against Russia, criticized by Obama, are part of his campaigning style and will inevitably be adjusted to match the reality should he win the polls.

But the Russian Foreign ministry official said Moscow was ready for any turn of events.

“We are ready for any development of relations,” he said. “In the long run, we can afford not having any relations with some of our partners, if they wish so ...”

“The only thing we want is the U.S. electorate to bear responsibility for its choice,” he added.

Russia’s previous president, Vladimir Putin, whose assertive foreign policy irked the West throughout his eight years in power, has blamed Washington for seeking to dominate the world.

Medvedev has softened the anti-Western rhetoric but made clear Moscow will not step back in principal disagreements with the West, including the United States.

The Foreign ministry official said Moscow was patient.

“Everything is fine until we are told how to behave, who to be friends with, who to fight against, who must be hated, who you must bed down with and who must be shown the door,” he said.

But he blamed the U.S. partners for trying to impose their agenda in the bilateral dialogue and ignore Russia’s interests. Moscow one day could lose interest in such dialogue, he said.

“Personally, it seems to me we could reach a moment when we can afford to give up discussing the issues that the Americans are interested in,” the official said.

Reporting by Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Richard Balmforth