“We are stronger than any potential aggressor”.
So said Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday, speaking at his annual news conference in Moscow.
The Kremlin leader however made clear that he does not regard the United States as a potential aggressor and doesn’t dispute that the US has the most powerful military in the world.
“Who is an aggressor? It is someone who can potentially attack the Russian Federation. So we are stronger than any potential aggressor,” Putin told journalists, saying that major modernisation work on the country’s armed forces and missile potential had been carried out.
Putin praised US President-Elect Donald Trump, saying he had his finger on the pulse of US society.
“Trump understood the mood of the people and kept going until the end, when nobody believed in him,” Putin said, adding with a smile, “Except for you and me.”
He also said Trump’s call for America’s nuclear arsenal to be boosted was perfectly normal.
Trump’s comments, made in a tweet on Thursday, alarmed non-proliferation experts who said that a boost to the US arsenal could fuel global tensions.
But Putin said he was surprised by the fuss Trump’s tweet had caused and how it had been linked to his own statements about Russia’s plans to modernise its own nuclear arsenal.
Asked to clarify his comments about expanding US nuclear weapons capability, Trump said, “Let it be an arms race,” and that the United States would win it, US TV network MSNBC reported later on Friday.
Putin told reporters he wasn’t yet ready to say whether he would run for another presidential term at the next election in 2018.
As for this year’s US presidential poll, Putin dismissed claims by the White House and US intelligence officials that Russia had helped Trump to victory by hacking e-mail accounts of Hillary Clinton’s Democrats.
“The Democratic Party lost not only the presidential elections but also the Senate and Congress elections. Is that also the result of my work? I would really like to build businesslike, constructive relations with the newly-elected president and with future leaders of the Democratic Party,” Putin said.
“The current administration and the leadership of the Democratic Party are trying to blame all their failures on external factors.
“(We are talking about) a party which has clearly forgotten the original meaning of its own name,” Putin said, accusing the Democrats of “shamelessly” abusing their status as the ruling party to try to influence public opinion.
“Outstanding figures in American history from the ranks of the Democratic Party would likely be turning in their graves. Roosevelt certainly would be,” Putin added.
In a news conference lasting around four hours, Putin tackled many topics – among them Syria, saying that Russia, Iran, Turkey and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had agreed that the Kazakh capital of Astana should be the venue for new peace talks.