Putin Suggests Caution on Obama

APPutin accepting a medal of gratitude from Saxony's governor in Dresden.
DRESDEN, Germany -- Prime Minister Vladimir Putin praised incoming U.S. President Barack Obama as "sincere and open" on Saturday but said Moscow needed to see how he turned out in practice.

"Obama looks like a sincere and open man and this of course attracts people," Putin said at a meeting with German newspaper editors in Dresden that lasted until 2 a.m.

But he also said: "It is my deep belief that the most bitter disappointments usually result from excessive expectations. We need to see what happens in practice."

Russia's relations with the United States have sunk to a post-Cold War low amid acrimonious disputes over U.S. missile defense plans and Russia's August war with Georgia, which has close U.S. ties.

Putin praised what he described as signals that Obama's administration could drop plans to deploy missile defense installations in Poland and the Czech Republic and halt efforts to grant NATO membership to Georgia and Ukraine.

Obama, who will be sworn into office Tuesday, has not been explicit in public about whether he would proceed with the missile defense plan in Poland and the Czech Republic. More broadly, he has said he supports missile defense but wants to ensure that it is a reliable system that does not detract from other security priorities.

Putin said that Russia and the United States could cooperate in curbing the arms race as well as on the Middle East, Iran and the global economic crisis.

"We are ready for such cooperation and will wait for a political realization of what we heard during the [Obama] election campaign, Putin said.

Russia does not want to defy the West but wants its own interests to be taken into account, he said.

"We respect our partners, but we expect the same attitude to us," the prime minister said. "We must acknowledge each other's interests and respect each other."

He also said that he was not impressed by European euphoria over Obama.

"The fact that some European states were strongly inspired by Obama shows that Europeans recently saw many negative things in U.S. policy," he said.

The meeting in Dresden, where Putin worked as a KGB officer from 1985 to 1990, was part of a brief visit to Germany to drum up support for Russia in its gas dispute with Ukraine, which has led to a cutoff of the bulk of Russian gas supplies to Europe for more than a week.

Putin held out hope for improving ties with the West despite the gas crisis, which has fueled concerns about Moscow's increasing assertiveness in global affairs.

But he also declared that Russia would not change its course to satisfy the West.

"If some people think that Russia doesn't fit some standards, that's their right," he said. "But it doesn't impede us from looking at whether the standards you like are that good."

nForeign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Friday that Russia hoped Obama would not raise tensions by making Ukrainian and Georgian membership in NATO a priority.

Lavrov, speaking at his annual January news conference, also said he believed that the United States and Russia needed an agenda that united rather than divided them.