Putin ready to work with Trump leadership, says 'We need friends'

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MOSCOW (Reuters) - President Vladimir Putin struck an unusually conciliatory tone in his annual state of the nation address on Thursday, saying Moscow wanted to get on with the incoming U.S. administration and was looking to make friends not enemies.

Putin has used previous set-piece speeches to lash out at the West and the United States in particular, but he reined in his criticism this time round and focused most of his speech on domestic social and economic issues.

"We don't want confrontation with anyone. We don't need it. We are not seeking and have never sought enemies. We need friends," Putin told Russia's political elite gathered in one of the Kremlin's grandest halls.

"We are ready to cooperate with the new U.S. administration. We have a shared responsibility to ensure international security."

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Russian President Vladimir Putin holds a glass of champagne after a state awards ceremony at the Kremlin in Moscow, on March 10, 2016. AFP PHOTO / POOL / PAVEL GOLOVKIN / AFP / POOL / PAVEL GOLOVKIN (Photo credit should read PAVEL GOLOVKIN/AFP/Getty Images)
MOSCOW, RUSSIA. MARCH 1, 2016. Russia's president Vladimir Putin at the 7th congress of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of the Russian Federation (CCI). Mikhail Metzel/TASS (Photo by Mikhail Metzel\TASS via Getty Images)
Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu leave Moscow's Red Square on May 9, 2015 after the Victory Day military parade. Russian President Vladimir Putin presides over a huge Victory Day parade celebrating the 70th anniversary of the Soviet win over Nazi Germany, amid a Western boycott of the festivities over the Ukraine crisis. AFP PHOTO / KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV (Photo credit should read KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP/Getty Images)
Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) speaks with the leader of Georgia's breakaway province of South Ossetia Leonid Tibilov during a meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow on June 1, 2015. AFP PHOTO / POOL / IVAN SEKRETAREV (Photo credit should read IVAN SEKRETAREV/AFP/Getty Images)
BUDAPEST, HUNGARY - FEBRUARY 17: Russian President Vladimir Putin (C) looks on as Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban kisses the hand of a member of the Russian delegation during a signing ceremony of several agreements between the two countries on February 17, 2015 in Budapest, Hungary. Putin is in Budapest on a one-day visit, his first visit to an EU-member country since he attended ceremonies marking the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasions in France in June, 2014. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) meets with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi at the Kremlin in Moscow on May 21, 2015. AFP PHOTO / POOL / KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV (Photo credit should read KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP/Getty Images)
SOCHI, RUSSIA - MARCH 16: Russia President Vladimir Putin waves during the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games Closing Ceremony at Fisht Olympic Stadium on March 16, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. (Photo by Dennis Grombkowski/Getty Images)
Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures as he speaks during a joint news conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo, Japan, December 16, 2016. REUTERS/Alexander Zemlianichenko/Pool
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Any U.S.-Russia co-operation would have to be mutually beneficial and even-handed, he said.

Putin has spoken previously of his hope that U.S. President-elect Donald Trump may help restore tattered U.S.-Russia relations, and analysts said he was unlikely to want to dial up anti-Western rhetoric before Trump's inauguration in January.

The Russian leader said he was hoping to find common ground with Washington on fighting global terrorism in particular.

That was a reference to Syria where Moscow is backing President Bashar al-Assad, while the outgoing U.S. administration has supported anti-Assad rebels.

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Russia hopes Trump will give Russia a freer hand there and cooperate militarily to fight Islamic State.

Putin's tone may have been softer than usual, but he still made it clear that Russia would continue to robustly stand up for its own interests.

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Complaining about what he said were "myths" about Russian aggression and Russian meddling in other countries' elections, he said Moscow wanted to independently decide its own fate.

"We will build our future without advice from anyone else," said Putin.

The main target of Putin's speech appeared to be the Russian people though.

His message was that the worst of a grinding economic crisis was in the past and that it was now time to focus on improving living standards by investing more heavily in education and health.

The next presidential election takes place in 2018, and though he has not said yet if he will seek another term, Putin is widely expected to run.

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