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Russia takes parting shots at Obama, looks forward to Trump Administration

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 17/01/2017 Andrew Roth, David Filipov
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov gives his annual press conference in Moscow on Jan. 17, 2017. © Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP/Getty Images Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov gives his annual press conference in Moscow on Jan. 17, 2017.

MOSCOW — Russia’s top diplomat on Tuesday said Moscow was looking forward to cooperating with the incoming administration of President-elect Donald Trump in the war on terrorism and bringing peace to Syria, and took a shot at the Obama administration for what he called “double standards.”

“If we hear that in the foreign policy of Donald Trump the main thing will be the fight against terrorism, then we, of course, can only welcome that, since that is exactly the thing that has been lacking with our American partners,” Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, told a nationally televised press conference.

Referring to Syria, where Russia has been backing the regime of Bashar al-Assad against rebels, including moderate groups supported by the United States, Lavror said Moscow hoped that Trump’s administration “will not apply double standards in order to use the war on terrorism to achieve goals that don’t have anything to do with this goal.”

Lavrov, echoing the caution expressed by Russian President Vladi­mir Putin and his spokesman since Trump’s election victory, said it was too early to say exactly how much improvement to expect in U.S.-Russian ties, currently at a post-Cold War low over Washington’s conclusion that the Kremlin ordered a hacking campaign to interfere with the elections.

“Only when everyone takes their places in the new administration, when practical work begins, will it be clear how relations between the USA and the rest of the world will be,” he said.

Lavrov dismissed a question about hacking from a German reporter, and instead spoke at length about the need to cooperate about cybersecurity and again accused the West of double standards. German politicians have accused Russia of conducing a cyber campaign ahead of elections in that country similar to the one U.S. intelligence agencies announced.

He also said that Russia had “nothing to do” with allegations that Moscow had gathered compromising materials on Trump in an effort to gain political leverage over him.

Lavrov brushed aside an offer Trump raised in an interview published Sunday in the Times of London to lift sanctions against Russia in exchange for talks on reducing the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals.

Washington and the European Union imposed economic sanctions on Russia and travel bans for individuals after Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and its military interference in eastern Ukraine. The Obama administration extended the U.S. sanctions at the end of December.

“I didn’t see a proposal to disarm in return for the lifting of sanctions,” Lavrov said. “I am convince that one of the priorities will be a dialogue about strategic stability.”

Here, too, the Russian foreign minister faulted the Obama Administration, saying Washington had “destroyed” all bilateral efforts. He said that U.S. plans to develop non-nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles, anti-ballistic missile defenses and space-based weapons had hindered the discussion.

Lavrov also criticized U.S. spy agencies for what he described as numerous efforts to recruit Russian diplomats under pressure. Lavrov’s spokeswoman on Sunday made headlines in Russia when she said that U.S. officials had tried to recruit a Russian diplomat who was arrested while trying to procure medicine for a leading Russian politician.

“We haven’t published the full statistics about this, but over the past several years, especially during the second term of the administration of Barack Obama, and such unfriendly activity towards our diplomats has increased,” he said.

While he heaped scorn on the Obama administration, he said he had a friendly relationship with outgoing Secretary of State John Kerry and hoped it would continue.

Russia has invited the incoming Trump Administration to Syrian peace talks it is sponsoring later this month with Turkey and Iran, part of a process from which the Obama Administration pointedly has been excluded.

U.S. participation, especially if an agreement is reached, would be the first indication of the enhanced U.S.-Russia cooperation that President Vladi­mir Putin and Trump have been forecasting.

In an interview published on Monday, Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of Russia’s Security Council, expressed the cautiously positive tone on the prospects for collaboration with Washington that have become customary in Russia since Trump’s election victory.

 However, Patrushev told the state-run Rossiiskaya Gazeta that he did not expect rapid improvements or a swift lifting of sanctions because the United States and Russia were starting from such a low point in their relations.

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