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Putin urges Trump to co-operate over Syria

Vladimir Putin has urged Donald Trump to co-operate on the war in Syria and develop economic ties in his first push to improve strained Russian relations with the US following America’s election.

The Russian president spoke by telephone with Mr Trump, the US president-elect, late on Monday and expressed a “willingness to build a dialogue between partners with the new administration based on the principles of equality, mutual respect and non-interference in each others’ internal affairs”, the Kremlin said.

The statement reflects Moscow’s hope that Russia can regain the status of an equal to the US in global affairs — a position it lost after the collapse of the Soviet Union but which Mr Putin has vigorously pushed for in recent years.

The two leaders should “return to a pragmatic, mutually beneficial co-operation which would correspond to the interests of both countries as well as global stability and security”, the Russian president said, according to the statement.

Mr Trump told Mr Putin that he looked forward to a “strong and enduring relationship” with Russia, the Kremlin said.

The Russian president also laid out his agenda, with a focus on co-operation in Syria — which has been elusive with the Obama administration — and rebuilding economic ties.

In the course of his campaign, Mr Trump praised Mr Putin as a strong leader while elements of the Russian media backed the Republican candidate.

After his stunning victory, Mr Trump said the US should co-operate with Russia and suggested his priority in Syria would be fighting Isis, not seeking the removal of President Bashar al-Assad.

Relations between Moscow and the west have become increasingly strained over Russia’s backing of the Syrian regime and its involvement in the bombardment of the city of Aleppo.

The Kremlin said Mr Putin and Mr Trump agreed on the need for joint efforts in the fight against terrorism and extremism, and also discussed the possibility of a settlement to the five-year conflict in Syria.

Repeated attempts by John Kerry, US secretary of state, to hammer out a deal for co-operation with Russia in Syria collapsed last month. While the west accuses Russia of bombing civilians in Syria, Moscow criticises the Obama administration for failing to separate moderate armed opposition groups from jihadis.

Moscow is cautiously hoping that Mr Trump will retreat from asserting US power globally and from trying to promote democracy around the world, a feature of US foreign policy that Mr Putin has angrily attacked for more than a decade.

“The most important thing we can expect from Trump is a transition from the ideologised foreign policy to realism,” said Kirill Benediktov, a Russian conservative political scientist and author of books about Donald Trump and Marine Le Pen.

“Trump will indeed probably take some steps towards the improvement of relations with Russia, but not just because he likes us — and he indeed does like our president — but because it is in the US interest.”

Sergei Markov, a political scientist close to the Kremlin, said he believed there would be swift progress in co-operation after Mr Trump’s inauguration in January.

“Trump wants to co-operate with Assad. Already in February, Russian and US pilots will try to take Raqqa together,” he said, referring to Isis’s stronghold in Syria.

Russian political analysts said second only to co-operation in Syria were hopes that Mr Trump would move to repeal at least part of the sanctions regime that Washington imposed on Russia following Moscow’s military intervention in Ukraine in 2014.

However, Moscow is wary of conflict potential in other areas.

Russian analysts said Mr Trump’s tough line on China could put Russia, which has been growing increasingly dependent on Beijing, in a difficult position.

Mr Benediktov also warned that Mr Trump’s apparent opposition to the landmark nuclear deal world powers agreed with Iran, posed the single largest risk for new tensions with Moscow.

“Trump will be tougher on Iran than George W Bush,” he said. “And that is a potential conflict point with the leadership of Russia.”

Via FT