MOSCOW (Reuters) -- The Russian bear must show an attractive, reassuring face to the world to win respect and influence, must never be prickly or jealous in cultivating its partners, but must respond firmly if circumstances demand.
Such is President Dmitry Medvedev's view of Russia's historic bear image, so often used against it by rivals seeking to portray Moscow as brutish and ill-humored.
"Our image must be one with which our partners can be comfortable," Medvedev said in an interview to NTV television.
"We should not be prickly and hard to approach, but at the same time we should be able to give a firm response when circumstances call for it," he added.
Asked whether he felt uncomfortable with the bear image, Medvedev, whose own family name derives from the word "bear," said, "It's an image close to my heart."
Medvedev took over last year from Vladimir Putin, whose eight-year presidency coincided with a strong economic boom on the back of high energy prices and a rebirth of national pride in the country which lost the Cold War.
Putin, now Russia's prime minister, remains more popular than Medvedev and his philosophy of distrust of the West is still popular among many Russians.
In a message to nationalists at home, Medvedev said better ties with the West were in Russia's interests and prosperity at home would help the country's image abroad.
"If we want to present the right image to the world, we need to resolve our pressing problems, above all our social and economic problems," Medvedev said.
"We are striving to create a modern, competitive country," he added. "We can only create such a country if we have normal ties with the world."
Medvedev says modernizing the Russian economy, eradicating corruption, the promise of successive Russian and Soviet leaders, and introducing the rule of law are his top priorities.
He told NTV creating closer ties with the West was a long-term strategy. "We cannot produce certain technologies, certain services ourselves...even if we create the most developed society and the most powerful economy," he said.
As part of his rapprochement with the West, Medvedev has engaged with U.S. President Barack Obama in "resetting" relations between Moscow and Washington.
Russia and the United States are working on a new nuclear arms cuts pact and cooperating in the movement of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Medvedev has also praised better cooperation with the United States on Iran and North Korea.
But despite this new atmosphere, both sides still have a long way to go to agree on issues like prospective NATO membership for ex-Soviet states, U.S. missile-defense plans in Europe, and Russia's military action in Georgia last year.
The West is also highly critical of Moscow on its human rights policies.
'Not Correct' To 'Drag' Others Into Alliances
In a move that has irked Moscow, U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden followed Obama's visit to Russia earlier this month with a tour of Russian neighbors Georgia and Ukraine, pledging Washington's support to their quest for NATO membership.
Medvedev said there were limits to how far Russia would compromise for better relations with the United States.
"We watch without jealousy as other states build their relations with our international partners, including such an important partner as the United States," he said.
"But we don't think it is correct to drag other states into military and political alliances against the will of their people," he said, referring to Ukraine and Georgia.