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Kremlin Shrugs Off Tillerson's Russia Ties

Russian president Vladimir Putin (left) and ExxonMobil Chairman and CEO Rex Tillerson shake hands at an energy summit in St. Petresburg in June 2013.

Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman has praised Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson as a professional and shrugged off suggestions that Tillerson’s ties with Russia and Putin might affect his conduct if he becomes U.S. secretary of state.

Several media outlets on December 9 cited aides to President-elect Donald Trump as saying Tillerson, whose company has extensive drilling interests in Russia, had emerged as the leading candidate to become the top U.S. diplomat after Trump takes office.

Tillerson has criticized the U.S. sanctions imposed on Russia over its interference in Ukraine, which have forced Exxon Mobil to abandon some projects. Putin decorated Tillerson with a state Order of Friendship medal in 2013.

Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, suggested on December 12 that such ties would take second-place to U.S. interests for Tillerson if he gets the job.

Peskov told reporters that "being secretary of state is very different from leading a company, even a very big one. Therefore any sympathies, so to speak, become secondary," the Interfax news agency reported.

"The only thing that remains here is readiness to demonstrate a constructive attitude and be professional," he said. "We hope that this is what will happen" regardless of who becomes secretary of state.

Peskov said that Tillerson has had many contacts with Russian officials in his capacity as CEO of the oil company and that he "carries out his duties very professionally."

Based on reporting by Interfax and TASS