President Vladimir Putin on Saturday said nothing should impede the normalisation of relations between Russia and the West, after ties hit a post-Cold War low due to the stand-off over Ukraine.
His remark, which contrasted with weeks of hostile rhetoric on both sides, came after talks between Russia, Ukraine and the West on Thursday in which an agreement was forged on initial steps to ease the crisis.
“It [normalising relations] does not depend on us, or does not only depend on us. It depends on our partners,” Putin said in comments released by Russian news agencies from a state television interview to be broadcast later.
“I think that there is nothing that should stand in the way of a normalisation and normal co-operation,” he added.
Putin expressed hope that Russia would be able to establish good relations with the incoming Nato secretary-general, former Norwegian prime minister Jens Stoltenberg, after testy exchanges with the outgoing chief of the alliance, ex-Danish premier Anders Fogh Rasmussen.
“We have very good relations. And this includes personal relations. He [Stoltenberg] is a very serious, responsible person and let’s see how the relations work in his new function,” said Putin.
The problems in Putin’s relations with Rasmussen were underlined on Thursday when the Russian president in a phone-in with the nation accused Rasmussen of secretly recording and leaking a private conversation they held while he was Danish prime minister.
Putin also reaffirmed that Moscow was giving Kiev another month to clear its gas debts but insisted Russia was not intent on bringing down the Ukrainian economy.
“We cannot wait forever. We cannot transfer onto the Russian budget and the Russian taxpayer the burden for a country of 45 million people,” he said.
“We are not trying to undermine the Ukrainian economy, which would put the reliability of the transit [of Russian gas] to Europe in doubt.”
He called on all European states to work out measures on how to finance the Ukrainian budget.
So far it remains unclear how the Geneva agreement between Russia, the United States, the EU and Ukraine will be implemented, with pro-Russia separatists refusing to leave buildings in the east of Ukraine.