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Putin Says He Likes Obama, But Urges Caution

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on a visit to Berlin on January 16
DRESDEN, Germany (Reuters) -- Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has praised incoming U.S. President Barack Obama as "sincere and open" but said Moscow needed to see how he turns out in practice.

Relations between Washington and Moscow have hit a post-Cold War low amid rows over missile defense, NATO enlargement, Kosovo independence, and Russia's war with Georgia.

Putin said Russia was ready to cooperate with the United States on a range of international issues, though he cautioned against excessive optimism over the new U.S. leader.

"Obama looks like a sincere and open man and this of course attracts people," Putin said at an overnight meeting with editors of leading German newspapers during a visit to Dresden.

But he also said: "I am deeply convinced that the deepest disappointments come from excessive hopes. We need to see what happens in practice."

Putin led Russia as president in 2000-08 and developed a strong personal relationship with outgoing U.S. President George W. Bush, which survived frequent disagreements over policy.

Putin, who is widely regarded as Russia's paramount leader in his role as premier, said Moscow had noted positive signals from the Obama camp on U.S. plans to build an anti-missile system -- something Moscow says threatens its security.

"This concerns missile defense: We have heard that it may not be that badly needed," Putin told German media editors.

"We also heard that the security of countries like Ukraine and Georgia can be ensured through other means and there is no need to immediately grant them NATO membership," he added.

Russia has strongly opposed Washington's plans to shepherd former Soviet states into the Western military alliance.

Putin said Russia and the United States could cooperate in curbing the arms race, as well as on the Middle East, Iran, and the global economic crisis.

"We are ready for such cooperation, and will wait for a political realization of what we heard during the [Obama] election campaign," he said.

The Russian premier said he was not impressed by European euphoria over Obama.

"The fact that some European states were strongly inspired by Obama shows that Europeans recently saw many negative things in U.S. policy," he said.