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Putin Signs Decree Seeking Closer U.S. Ties, 'Firm Guarantees' On Missile Shield

Newly inaugurated Russian President Vladimir Putin
Newly inaugurated Russian President Vladimir Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a decree stating that Moscow will seek closer ties with Washington, but will not tolerate interference in its affairs.

The document, signed on May 7, hours after Putin was sworn in for a third term as president, also says that Moscow wants "firm guarantees" that a planned U.S.-led NATO missile shield is not aimed against Russia.

It says Moscow aims to bring cooperation with Washington "to a truly strategic level" but relations must be based on equality and mutual respect.

The decree serves to send a message to U.S. President Barack Obama ahead of a meeting between the leaders later this month at G8 and NATO summits in the United States.

Washington maintains that the missile shield, which is due to be completed by about 2020, is meant to counter a potential threat from rogue states, including Iran. Russia says the system could gain the capability to intercept Russian missiles by about 2018.

Russia's Chief of General Staff Nikolai Makarov on May 3 repeated warnings that Russia might opt to station short-range missiles in its Kaliningrad exclave to counter the shield.

He was also quoted as saying that Russia may consider a preemptive strike on the system in Europe if the project continues as planned.

U.S. State Department responded by insisting that the shield would not alter the strategic balance between the countries.

Putin's decree also said Russia would "work actively to prevent unilateral extraterritorial sanctions by the United States against Russian businesses and individuals" -- likely a reference to measures pending in the U.S. Congress to deny visas to and freeze the assets of individuals deemed complicit in the prison death of Russian anticorruption lawyer Sergei Magnitsky.

Moscow has previously warned that imposing the sanctions would harm bilateral ties and has also threatened retaliatory measures.

The decree's line on "non-interference" is likely also a reference to Putin's claim during the election campaign that the United States was funding the Russian opposition -- a claim Washington and anti-Putin protesters have denied.

Beyond U.S.-Russian issues, the decree also touches on other foreign policy matters.

It says Russia will search for a solution to the Transdniester dispute based on Chisinau's "sovereignty and territorial integrity." Moscow provides significant financial support to the breakaway government in the region's de-facto capital of Tiraspol and also maintains a military presence there.

The decree also instructs the foreign ministry to "actively help" Abkhazia and South Ossetia develop as independent states. The two Georgian separatist regions declared independence after the Russia-Georgia war of 2008. Russia is the only major world power to recognize them.

The document also said Russia will "continue efforts" to help settle the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, the breakaway Azerbaijani region populated almost exclusively by ethnic Armenians.

In the Middle East, Russia will continue to advocate resolving crises through national dialogue and the principle of non-interference.

That's a repeat of Russia's position on ally Syria, in defiance of the Western view that President Bashar al-Assad should step down after overseeing massive violence against civilians protesting against his rule.

With reporting by Reuters, Interfax, and ITAR-TASS
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