MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin called for better ties with the United States in his annual address Thursday, while brushing away allegations of meddling in the U.S. presidential campaign and Washington’s concerns about Kremlin interference in other countries.
But the moment that went viral on Russian websites was an image of the national broadcast that showed his prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev, eyes turned down, appearing to doze off.
Whether the premier was napping or just checking his notes, the image was seen by many as an appropriate metaphor for the 70-minute, nationally televised speech.
In a businesslike tone that recalled a Soviet Communist Party Central Committee meeting, Putin ticked off various economic issues and raised his emotional level — and his own voice — only when he brought up the Olympics doping scandal and “external pressure” on Russia.
“They’ve used everything against us,” Putin said. “Myths about Russian aggression, about propaganda, interference in other countries’ elections, besmirching our athletes, including Paralympic athletes.”
“Unlike other foreign colleagues, who see Russia as an enemy, we are not looking for and never looked for enemies,” Putin added.
He repeated his desire to improve Russia’s relationship with Washington — another clear signal of Moscow’s hopes to build ties with President-elect Donald Trump — amid Western outcry over Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, its proxy war in eastern Ukraine, and its air campaign in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
“We are ready for cooperation with the new administration,” Putin said. “I am counting on joint efforts with the United States in the fight against real, not imagined, threats of international terrorism.”
Putin has on several occasions spoken of the need to mend U.S.-Russian ties since the election of Trump. Trump, for his part, has spoken about the need to cooperate with Russia.
For most of the address in the opulent St. George’s Hall of the Kremlin, Putin listed economic data and plans to improve Russia’s infrastructure. Government officials and members of parliament applauded mildly here and there.
“The only emotional parts of the speech concerned international politics; everything else was dreary, full of banalities,” said Stanislav Belkovsky, a liberal Russian political analyst, on the independent television station TV Rain.
Later, he added: “It’s clear that Putin’s address to the Federal Assembly is nothing more than a ritual at this point. He doesn’t treat the content of his speech seriously.”
An example: Putin has slowly worn away democratic institutions such as opposition parties and checks and balances against his own power, but he praised his administration’s course of “developing democratic institutions and increasing competition.”
Opposition parties have been pushed to the sidelines in Russia, and October parliamentary elections returned a supermajority for Putin’s United Russia party.
“We’ve proven that we live in a healthy society that is sure of its just requirements, where immunity from populism and demagoguery is being strengthened, and where the meaning of mutual support, consolidation and unity is valued,” Putin said.
The Russian leader said unity had helped stave off “coups and in the end, anarchy” — a veiled reference to the “color” revolutions of other post-Soviet states such as Ukraine, where Russia is fighting a proxy war in the east after annexing the Crimean Peninsula.
Putin also made a reference to the refugee crisis in Europe and the chaotic election campaign in the United States.
“It’s troubling that in the world, even in the seemingly most well-off countries and stable regions, there are more schisms and national, religious, political and social crises,” the Russian leader said.
“We know well the consequences of such so-called great upheavals,” Putin said, noting the 100th anniversary of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution next year.
Pro-establishment politicians and observers praised the speech and Putin’s calls for consolidation.
“Liberals consider patriots idiots, patriots consider liberals traitors,” tweeted Sergei Markov, a pro-Kremlin political analyst. “Putin called on them to stop quarreling and create a normal society.”
Others saw it a different way.
“This address is so boring it’s funny,” tweeted Belkovsky.
Much of Putin’s speech touched on specifics of the economy, mired in a two-year slowdown, and he called for tax reform, investment in health care and education, and improvements in technology.
“Let us remember that we are a united people, we are one people, we have one Russia,” he said.