Outgoing US President Barack Obama on Wednesday said having a “constructive” relationship with Russia is in the interest of America and the world and admitted that bilateral ties had reverted to an “adversarial spirit” during Vladimir Putin’s presidency.
“I think it is in America’s interest and the world’s interest that we have a constructive relationship with Russia. That’s been my approach throughout my presidency. Where our interests have overlapped, we’ve worked together,” Obama told reporters at his final press conference at the White House, before handing power to Donald Trump.
He, however, admitted that bilateral ties reverted to an “adversarial spirit” when Putin began his second stint as Russian president in 2012.
“I think it’s fair to say that after President Putin came back into the presidency that an escalating anti-American rhetoric and an approach to global affairs that seem to be premised on the idea that whatever America’s trying to do must be bad for Russians….that return to an adversarial spirit that I think existed during the Cold War has made the relationship more difficult,” he said.
Obama made clear that the US imposed sanctions on Russia not because of nuclear weapons issues.
“It was because the independence and sovereignty of a country, Ukraine, had been encroached upon, by force, by Russia.That wasnt our judgement; that was the judgement of the entire international community,” he said.
“What Ive said to the Russians is, as soon as you’ve stop doing that the sanctions will be removed. I think it would probably best serve not only American interest but also the interest of preserving international norms if we made sure that we dont confuse why these sanctions have been imposed with a whole set of other issues,” Obama said in response to a question.
Trump has vowed to have better relations with Russia and in an interview recently said he would propose offering to end sanctions on Moscow in return for a nuclear arms reduction deal.
Obama’s administration imposed the sanctions in 2014 after Russia’s annexation of the Crimea peninsula from Ukraine.
“Russia continues to occupy Ukrainian territory and meddle in Ukrainian affairs,” Obama said.
“It is important for the US to stand up for the basic principal that big countries don’t go around and invade and bully smaller countries,” he added.
Obama said he worked on a nuclear arms control agreement with Moscow early in his presidency, resulting in the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.