Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said Russia will act quickly to improve relations with the United States if positive signals Moscow is receiving from people close to President-elect Barack Obama are turned into policies.
Asked if Barack Obama's election as U.S. president will lead to more pragmatic and constructive relations, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said that is a question for the new American administration. But he said new leadership brings change in any country, adding that Moscow hopes those changes will be positive.
Mr. Putin said the signals Russia is receiving from people close to President-elect Obama are positive.
The Russian prime minister called attention to Wednesday's decision by NATO foreign ministers not to extend its Membership Action Plan to Ukraine and Georgia. He said experts close to Mr. Obama and his circle said there is no need to rush the issue or to harm relations with Russia.
Mr. Putin said Moscow is also hearing from sources close to Mr. Obama about a reassessment of the need for an American missile-defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic, and the need to conduct U.S. foreign policy in a way that considers the interests of Russia.
Vladimir Putin said if such words are turned into policy, Russia will respond accordingly and America will see the results immediately.
President-elect Obama has had no public comment on the missile-defense issue, although he has pointed out that President George Bush will remain the leader of the country until January 20.
Russia is opposed to NATO expansion and dismisses Bush administration assurances that the proposed Central European missile defense system is aimed at rogue states like Iran, not Russia.
Prime Minister Putin said hopefully the United States will remain one of Russia's largest trading partners. But Mr. Putin again blamed America for the global financial crisis and warned Russians they must prepare for possible difficulties ahead.
The prime minister expressed hope there will be no mass unemployment in Russia, but he said what is happening in the labor market is clear. The number of people who will temporarily lose their jobs will increase. He said there are officially 1,700,000 unemployed in Russia and the number will increase to more than two million.
Mr. Putin said the need to boost domestic currency market liquidity during the global economic crisis has increased inflation in Russia, but he assured people the country has dealt successfully with much greater problems in its history and has every chance to get through current difficulties with minimum loses.
This was the seventh annual call-in show Mr. Putin has conducted and his first as prime minister. He answered more than 70 questions in more than three hours, most dealing with such domestic issues as low pensions and the high cost of firewood in distant villages, the location of casinos in and around urban areas, the price of domestic airline tickets and the reduction of the Russian military officer corps.
After the program, Mr. Putin told reporters he likes the tandem power arrangement he has with President Dmitri Medvedev, calling it an effective form of governance.
He added that the next presidential election is in 2012 and that every member of government must fulfill his obligation until then. But as to exactly what happens next, he responded with a non-committal, "It remains to be seen."