“We think that Russia is a large, important country with a military that is second only to ours and has to be a part of the solution on the world stage rather than part of the problem,” Obama said at a joint White House news conference with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.
While still holding on to his critical rhetoric towards Moscow, Obama has not hesitated to bring up Donald Trump’s campaign, specifically scolding him for “modeling” Russia’s President’s policies.
“Mr. Trump’s continued flattery of Mr. Putin and the degree to which he appears to model many of his policies and approaches to politics on Mr. Putin is unprecedented in American politics and is out of step with not just what Democrats think but out of step with what up until the last few months, almost every Republican thought, including some of the ones who are now endorsing Mr. Trump,” Obama said.
He went on to say that the next president should call out Russia over its “behavior,” which he said “undermined international norms.”
“Anybody who occupies the office should feel the same way,” Obama said, adding, “Mr. Trump rarely surprises me these days.”
Obama said he was “surprised and troubled” by what he called “quite a reversal” among Republicans, pointing specifically at those officials who “historically been adamantly anti-Russian” and “attacked” him for “engaging them [Russians] diplomatically.”
“You will have to ask them how they would explain that,” Obama said.
President Obama’s comments toward Russia appeared to be more “subdued” compared to his previous statements he made on the campaign trail for Hillary Clinton.
He recalled the beginning of his presidential term, saying that Washington has been trying to “initiate a more constructive path” towards bilateral relations between Russia and the US.
“I think we showed Russia plenty of respect, acknowledging enormous differences and different values but also finding ways in which we could cooperate together,” Obama said, laying out some of the deals with Moscow, such the so-called START treaty and Russia’s accession to the World Trade Organization in 2011.
However, he also told reporters that “Russia’s aggression” in a “particular part of the world” has been the challenge, echoing his administration’s frequent phrasing.
With US elections looming, Russia-US relations had seemed to be getting worse, with Washington directlyaccusing Moscow of hacking to “interfere with the US election process.”
Despite that, President Obama again made no mention of either the conflict or of America allegedly preparing a response.
Praising his attempts to work with Russia on Syria, Obama accused President Putin of doubling down on his support for Assad “rather than to work with us to try to solve the problem.”
“So, any characterization that somehow we have improperly challenged Russian aggression or have somehow tried to encroach on their legitimate interests is just wrong,” Obama said.
At the same time, Obama appeared to downplay the recent scandals alleging a quid pro quo arrangement between Hillary Clinton and the FBI in relation to one of her messages on deadly 2012 Benghazi attack.