By VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV
MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin voiced hope Friday that frayed relations with the U.S. will improve once Donald Trump becomes president despite his pledge to strengthen the U.S.’s nuclear arsenal.
Speaking during a marathon end-of-year news conference that lasted the best part of four hours, Putin heaped praise on the president-elect while downplaying any concerns stemming from Trump’s support for a strengthened U.S. nuclear capability.
Putin also used the opportunity offered by the press conference to lambast Trump’s rivals in the Democratic Party for seeking to blame their defeat in November’s election to hacking accusations against Moscow.
“They are losing on all fronts, and are trying to find the culprits elsewhere,” he said. “They are humiliating themselves. They must know how to lose with dignity.”
Asked how he responded to President Barack Obama’s hacking accusations during a conversation shortly before the vote that Russia was involved in the hacking of Democratic Party officials’ emails, Putin said he wouldn’t divulge details of a confidential talk.
“The most important thing is the substance of the information the hackers have presented to the public opinion,” Putin said, adding that the Democrats should have apologized to Americans over the “manipulations” the emails revealed.
“The current administration and the Democratic Party’s leadership are trying to shift the blame for all their failures to external factors,” Putin said.
He pointed at “the gap in views of what is good and what is bad between the elites and broader masses,” adding that “the current administration has systemic problems.”
In response to Obama’s comment that “Ronald Reagan would roll over in his grave” upon seeing recent poll results showing that more than one-third of Republicans view Putin favorably, Putin said Reagan would be happy to see his party win.
“Reagan would be happy that representatives of his party win everywhere, and he would be happy for the president-elect,” Putin said, adding with a smile: “No one but us believed in his victory.”
Putin said he was encouraged that the U.S. election showed that “there are people who sympathize with our views of traditional values, because it’s a good basis for developing relations between our two powerful countries.”
Putin expressed hope that he would meet soon with Trump to discuss how to improve the two countries’ relations — and would “definitely” visit the United States if Trump invites him.
Relations between the U.S. and Russia have become increasingly strained over the past few years, sinking to their worst since the Cold War. The conflict in Ukraine, which saw Russia annex the Crimea peninsula, and disagreements over the war in Syria have lain behind the growing distrust between the two.
The Russian leader also reaffirmed his claim that the Russian military is “stronger than any potential aggressor,” even though he acknowledged that the U.S. military is bigger.
Putin said that the U.S. military has “more missiles, submarines and aircraft carriers, and we aren’t arguing with that.”
“We are just saying that we are simply stronger than any aggressor,” he said.
Putin said he saw “nothing unusual” in Trump’s nuclear weapons pledge, adding that the statement is in line with the president-elect’s campaign promises.
The ongoing modernization of Russia’s strategic nuclear forces has come as a response to the U.S. opting out of a Cold War-era treaty that banned missile defenses, Putin said. Russia had to either design a similar shield or build new missiles capable of penetrating the U.S. defenses to maintain a nuclear parity, the Russian leader argued.
“It’s not us who have been speeding up the arms race,” Putin said, adding that Russia has fully complied with the existing arms control agreements.
He also noted that the U.S. has been modernizing its tactical nuclear weapons in Europe.
Pointing at this week’s terror attack in Berlin, Putin called for better cooperation in fighting terrorism, saying such efforts between Russia and the West have been effectively paralyzed by Western sanctions against Russia.
“We can only fight this threat efficiently if we pool our efforts together,” he said.
The Russian president pointed at the evacuation of civilians and rebels from eastern Aleppo as a result of successful cooperation between Russia, Turkey and Iran. He said a cease-fire on the entire territory of Syria must come now, followed by peace talks.