Russian president Vladimir Putin waded into the American presidential race on Thursday, lauding President Barack Obama as “a very honest man” with whom he could find common ground to solve the contentious issue of American plans for a missile defense system in Europe, the New York Times reported.
Asked about the American presidential race during an interview with the state-controlled television network RT, Putin also took the time to chastise Republican nominee Mitt Romney for his recent comments asserting that Russia was America’s No. 1 enemy.
The public rebuke, while sure to actually please some hard-line conservatives, harkened back to the days of the George W. Bush White House as American prestige and respect around the globe dipped to an all-time low.
Putin said he believed that a compromise could be reached on the missile defense system plans if Obama were re-elected in November. Russia has strongly opposed the deployment, citing its own security concerns.
Despite American assurances to the contrary, a Romney victory would further heighten Moscow’s fears about the missile system being directed against Russia, Putin said.
“Is it possible to find a solution to the problem, if current President Obama is re-elected for a second term? Theoretically, yes,” Mr. Putin said, according to the official transcript posted on the Kremlin’s Web site. “But this isn’t just about President Obama.
“For all I know, his desire to work out a solution is quite sincere,” Putin explained. “I met him recently on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Los Cabos, Mexico, where we had a chance to talk. And though we talked mostly about Syria, I could still take stock of my counterpart. My feeling is that he is a very honest man, and that he sincerely wants to make many good changes. But can he do it? Will they let him do it?”
Putin was reminded of Romney’s remark about Russia and asked if he could work with a Romney administration.
“Yes, we can,” he said. “We’ll work with whichever president gets elected by the American people. But our effort will only be as efficient as our partners will want it to be.”
But he made sure to rebuke Romney for using inflammatory language for political gain.
“We understand that this is to a certain extent motivated by the election race,” Putin said. “But I also think that he was obviously wrong, because such behavior on the international arena is the same as using nationalism and segregation as tools of U.S. domestic policy. It has the same effect on the international arena when a politician – a person who aspires to lead a nation -especially a superpower like the U.S., proclaims someone to be an enemy.”
He then circled back to Russia’s concerns about the missile defense program.
“What happens if Mr. Romney, who believes us to be America’s No. 1 foe, gets elected as president of the United States?” he asked. “In that case, the system will definitely be directed against Russia, as its infrastructure looks to be configured exactly for this purpose.”