MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia on Thursday welcomed the U.S. Senate’s confirmation of John Kerry as the next secretary of state and suggested his appointment could improve ties that have been badly strained over the past year.
Cordial comments by the Foreign Ministry spokesman at a weekly briefing may signal Russia wants to ease tensions caused by disagreements over issues including human rights and Syria as President Barack Obama’s second term get under way.
But they came with a caveat that President Vladimir Putin issued when he started a six-year presidential term in May: Russia will not tolerate lecturing or meddling in its affairs by Moscow’s former Cold War foe.
“I would like to say that we are hoping for constructive work with him,” ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said. “John Kerry is a well-known political figure with rich experience in international affairs and knowledge of international relations.”
“For this reason we are convinced that (his appointment) will provide good support for the development of interaction between our countries, and help give bilateral cooperation a positive dynamic.”
Ties between the two nuclear-armed nations improved after Obama sought a “reset” in relations with Russia in 2009 but have worsened since Putin, in power since 2000, returned to the presidency in May following four years as prime minister.
Putin accused outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of encouraging anti-government protests that erupted in December 2011, while the United States has accused the Kremlin of clamping down on critics and civic activists
Alexei Pushkov, a Putin ally who heads the international affairs committee in Russia’s lower parliament house, suggested Clinton had clouded the “reset” by putting too much emphasis on democracy and human rights.
“It was her initiative to bring the issues of human rights, democracy and internal developments in Russia back onto the agenda,” he told Reuters on Thursday.
Moscow ordered the U.S. Agency for International Development out of Russia in October, saying the United States was using the mission to interfere in politics. It has also outlawed U.S.-funded non-profit organizations deemed involved in politics.
The United States angered Putin by passing a law in December that bars entry to Russians accused of involvement in the death of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky or other grave human rights abuses and freezes any assets they have there.
Russia responded with legislation imposing similar measures on Americans believed to have abused the rights of Russians and also bans the adoption of Russian children by Americans. The countries have also disagreed sharply over the Syrian conflict.
Lukashevich said Russia is “ready to move forward .... to resolve problematic issues on the basis of equality, non-interference in internal affairs and truly taking into account the interests of both states”.
Those conditions were set out by Putin in a foreign policy decree he issued on the first day of his new term, in which he said Russia wants “truly strategic” ties with the United States but would not tolerate interference in its affairs.
Writing by Steve Gutterman; Additional reporting by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Jason Webb