Moscow will seek closer ties with the United States but will not tolerate interference in its affairs and wants guarantees a US missile shield will not be used against Russia, under terms of a decree signed by Vladimir Putin yesterday, as he took office as President (7 May) for the third time.
The Romania-based missile shield site appears to be a second choice for the US, after President Obama shelved the Bush administration's plans to use long-range interceptors based in Poland and a radar installation in the Czech Republic to counter threats from 'rogue states', such as Iran and North Korea. That plan was opposed by Russia.
Plans to relocate part of the US missile shield to Romania were not opposed by Moscow. Obama's domestic critics claimed that the new plan proved he had caved in to Russian demands, and expressed doubt as to whether the administration could build an effective shield according to the promised timetable.
On 3 May, Romanian President Traian Băsescu announced the precise location of missile interceptors forming part of a planned US missile shield over Europe. He also announced that an airbase and the country's main sea port would be at the disposal of US troops.
Putin took the oath as Russia’s president on Monday with a ringing appeal for unity at the start of a six-year term in which he faces growing dissent, economic problems and bitter political rivalries.
Parliament is expected to approve to his ally Dmitry Medvedev, 46, as prime minister today (8 May), completing a job swap that has left many Russians feeling disenfranchised two decades after the Soviet Union collapsed.
Outside the Kremlin’s high red walls, riot police prevented protests by rounding up about 300 people, including men and women in cafes who were wearing the white ribbons symbolizing opposition to Putin, a day after detaining more than 400 during clashes.
But in the Kremlin, 2,000 dignitaries applauded Putin’s every step down the red carpet into a vast hall with gilded columns, the throne room of tsars, where he was sworn in with his right hand resting on the red-bound Russian constitution.
In a wide-ranging document signed hours after his inauguration, Putin set out foreign affairs policy priorities. Moscow wants to bring cooperation with Washington "to a truly strategic level" but relations must be based on "equality, non-interference in internal affairs and respect for one another's interests", the decree said.
Russia will "consistently stand up for its policy in connection with the creation by the United States of a global missile defense system, seeking firm guarantees it is not directed against Russia's nuclear deterrent forces".
The decree touched on policy around the world, but it served as a message to the United States ahead of Putin's expected meeting with US President Barack Obama, who hosts a Group of Eight industrial powers summit later this month.
Relations improved during the presidency of Putin's protégé Dmitry Medvedev, who signed a landmark nuclear arms limitation pact with Obama in 2010.
But ties have been strained over US and NATO plans for an anti-missile shield in Europe and deep differences over the bloody upheavals in Libya and Syria.
Washington says the shield, due to be completed in four phases by about 2020, is to counter a potential threat from Iran. But Russia says it could gain the capability to intercept Russian ICBMs by about 2018.
Russia's military chief of staff said on Thursday that Russia was prepared to carry out pre-emptive strikes against missile defense facilities in Europe to protect its security.
Diplomatic tensions also rose during Putin's presidential campaign when he accused the United States of backing his domestic opponents, and Washington criticized the treatment of protesters in Russia.
Russia and China in February vetoed a UN Security Council resolution which condemned Syria's government for a crackdown in which its forces have killed thousands of people and called for President Bashar al-Assad to give up power.
In a warning that encompassed both Russia and Syria, Putin's decree said Moscow would "counter attempts to use human rights concepts as an instrument of political pressure and interference in the internal affairs of states".
In the Middle East and North Africa, it said, Russia would advocate resolving crises through an end to violence by all sides, national dialogue without preconditions and the principle of non-interference - a repeat of Russia's position on Syria.
Closer to home, Putin made clear that strengthening bonds among former Soviet republics from Belarus to Central Asia, and giving Moscow's alliances economic and security alliances with those nations more global clout, are top priorities.
The decree called integration among members of the Commonwealth of Independent States a "key foreign policy direction" and reiterated plans for a Eurasian Economic Union, by January 2015, based on ties with Kazakhstan and Belarus.
Viktor Tkachuk, director-general of the Ukrainian Foundation for Democracy 'People First', said "Putin has chosen a strategy of arranging the post-Soviet territory under Russian control. Amid the strengthening of destabilising processes at the Near East and Central Asia, there is a high probability that the US and Europe will be amenable to Putin's new strategy, if he is going to simultaneously show a course on rapprochement with the West."
"The first steps on this path have already been made. For example, Russian oil and gas deposits have been opened to US firm ExxonMobil and the Italian Eni," he added.