Russia sets tough tone with new White House

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian President Dmitry Medvedev voiced hope on Wednesday for better relations with the new U.S. president, but also presented him with a headache by vowing retaliation for a U.S. missile defense plan.

Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev makes his annual state of the nation address at the Kremlin's St. George Hall in Moscow, November 5, 2008. REUTERS/RIA Novosti/Kremlin/Dmitry Astakhov

Washington’s relations with Moscow plunged to a post-Cold War low during George W. Bush’s presidency, and many in Russia have been cautiously hopeful for an improvement under Barack Obama, who they believe will take a fresh approach.

“I would like to stress: we have no problems with the American people. We have no innate anti-Americanism,” Medvedev said in his annual address to parliament.

“We hope that our partners -- the new US administration -- will make a choice in favor of fully-fledged relations with Russia,” Medvedev said.

Russia’s foreign ministry said Medvedev and Obama may meet later this month when leaders of the world’s largest economies gather in Washington to discuss the global financial crisis.

Medvedev accused Washington of triggering the crisis through its blunders and said selfish U.S. foreign policy had sparked August’s war between Russia and Georgia.

He also attacked the U.S. plan to station parts of its missile defense system in Europe, and said Moscow would respond by deploying missile systems in its Western outpost of Kaliningrad.


In a congratulatory telegram to Obama released hours later, Medvedev struck a more personal note, saying he wanted cooperation on a wide range of global and bilateral agendas.

“I am counting on a constructive dialogue with you on the basis of trust and taking into account the interests of each other,” Medvedev wrote, according to an excerpt released by the Kremlin press service.

Interfax news agency later quoted Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov as saying Medvedev and Obama may meet soon.

“We believe that during the summit of the G20 in Washington there will be contact between President Medvedev and the newly elected president of the United States,” he said.

Other Russian policymakers said they hoped Obama would represent a fresh start. Bush said soon after he took office that he had peered into the soul of previous Russian president Vladimir Putin and trusted him. But relations quickly soured.

During the campaign for the White House, Obama deployed tough rhetoric on Russia, but many Russians prefer him to his Republican rival John McCain, a forthright backer of Georgia.

After the Georgian war, Putin alleged the conflict had been orchestrated to benefit one party in the race for the White House -- a veiled reference to McCain.

One U.S. official in Moscow said he expected substantial changes in style under Obama and for the president-elect to be less determined than Bush to expand NATO to states like Georgia.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin said Obama’s victory gave Russia hope.

“The news we are receiving on the results of the American presidential election shows that everyone has the right to hope for a freshening of U.S. approaches to all the most complex issues, including ... relations with the Russian Federation,” RIA news agency quoted Karasin as saying.

Muscovites said they would judge Obama on his actions. “I’d like Barack Obama to love Russia and not look at it only as a consumer market,” said Lena, who did not give her family name.

Andrei Kazakov, walking across Red Square, said he hoped for fairness in relations between Russia and the United States. “Fairness in international politics and for Obama to be objective, friendly and respectful to all countries,” he added.

Additional reporting by Grigory Alexanyan, James Kilner and Michael Stott; editing by Philippa Fletcher