25 Jan 2021

Russian president ready to talk to US, despite 'meddling' claims

2:02 pm on 25 January 2021

Russian President Vladimir Putin would respond in kind if the new US administration showed willingness to talk, a Kremlin spokesperson said.

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Russian police detain a man during a rally in support of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny in Moscow. Photo: AFP

However, the spokesperson also accused the US of meddling in mass protests supporting detained Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

The Kremlin downplayed the scale of Saturday's demonstrations, which saw police detain more than 3000 people and use force to break up rallies across Russia.

Prior to the protests, the US Embassy in Moscow issued a "Demonstration Alert", warning US citizens to avoid the protests and naming the venues in Russian cities where protesters planned to gather.

"Of course, those publications are inappropriate," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Rossiya 1 TV on Sunday, according to Interfax news agency.

"And of course, indirectly, they are absolute interference in our internal affairs. So, this is a direct support of the breach in the Russian Federation's law."

The US embassy, in emailed comments, said such warnings were a "common and routine practice" of many countries' diplomatic missions.

"US embassies and consulates around the world regularly issue safety and security messages to our citizens," it said.

The United States on Saturday called on Russian authorities to release protesters and journalists detained at the demonstrations, and condemned what it called "harsh tactics" used by the police against them.

In central Moscow, where Reuters' reporters estimated up to 40,000 people had gathered in one of the biggest unauthorised rallies for years, police were seen roughly detaining people and bundling them into nearby vans.

The authorities said just around 4000 people had shown up, while the foreign ministry questioned Reuters' crowd estimate.

"No, only a few people went out, many people voted for Putin," Peskov said, according to TASS news agency.

Peskov said Russians supported constitutional reforms proposed by the president. Changes to the constitution will allow Putin to stay in power until 2036.

Relations lowest in years

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Russian President Vladimir Putin is reported to be willing to talk to US President Joe Biden. Photo: AFP

Navalny called on his supporters to protest after being arrested last weekend, as he returned to Russia from Germany for the first time since being poisoned with a nerve agent he said was slipped to him by state security agents in August.

Even before the friction over Navalny, relations between Moscow and Washington have been at their lowest since the end of the Cold War, with the two sides also at odds over Russia's role in Ukraine and allegations of its meddling in US elections, which it denies, among other issues.

Peskov struck a more conciliatory tone earlier yesterday, when he said Russia was ready to set up a dialogue with the new US administration of President Joe Biden.

"Of course, we count on success in setting up a dialogue," he was quoted as saying on TV by Interfax news agency.

"This will be the dialogue where, of course, differences will have to be stated to a greater extent, points of differences. But at the same time, a dialogue is a possibility to find some rational kernels, the little parts where our relations are getting closer," he said.

"And if the current US administration is ready for such an approach, I have no doubts that our president will respond in kind."

Putin was one of the last global leaders to congratulate Biden on his victory in the US presidential election after the 3 November vote.

One of the burning issues to be resolved by the two nuclear powers is the arms control treaty, known as New START, which is due to expire on 5 February.

Last week, the White House said Biden would seek a five-year extension to the deal, while the Kremlin requested concrete proposals from Washington.

The US was joined by the European Union and Britain in condemning the security forces' handling of Saturday's protests, while the foreign ministers of Italy and France both expressed support yesterday for sanctions against Moscow.

- Reuters

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