Russia is praising President-elect Donald Trump's choice of ExxonMobile CEO Rex Tillerson for secretary of state as the country's President Vladimir Putin said he's free to meet Trump any time.
"We are ready at any moment," Putin said when asked about the possibility of a meeting with Trump, according to an interview transcript released by the Kremlin. Although he indicated a meeting would be more likely after Trump's inauguration.
"It's widely known that the elected president of the United States has publicly called for the normalisation of the Russian-American relationship. We cannot but support this," Putin said, according to the Associated Press, which saw the transcript.
"We understand it will not be a simple task considering the extent of degradation of the Russian-American relationship," Putin said. "But we are prepared to do our bit."
Putin's comments came before an announcement likely to help smooth those relations. Trump said early on 13 December that he is nominating Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson as secretary of state.
Russia's foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, responded quickly to Tillerson's nomination. "We expect that this pragmatism will be a good foundation for building mutually beneficial cooperation," he said Tuesday (13 December) during a two day trip to Serbia's capital Belgrad.
Lavrov noted Trump and Tillerson, "have not been against our cooperation." Indeed Tillerson has close ties to Russia and President Vladimir Putin — a fact that will likely draw attention during his confirmation hearings in January 2017.
Tillerson brokered a $500bn oil exploration deal with Vladimir Putin in 2012 that would see ExxonMobil work with the Russian government oil company Rosneft. The deal got him the Kremlin's Order of Friendship in 2013. But President Barack Obama blocked the deal when it put sanctions on Russia following its annexation of the Crimean region of Ukraine in 2014. That year Tillerson said he opposes such sanctions as imprecise and ineffective. Over the summer Trump said he would "would be looking at" lifting the sanctions on Moscow.
Trump's relationship with Russia has been in the spotlight over the past week after President Barack Obama ordered an intelligence review of Russia's interference in the US election. After an infiltration of Democratic party computers by Russian intelligence-linked hackers, a trove of internal party documents were leaked to Wikileaks.
In an interview on Sunday (11 December), Arizona Republican Senator John McCain said he sees Tillerson's relationship with Putin as a red flag.
"It is a matter of concern to me that he has such close personal relationship with Vladimir Putin," the former GOP presidential nominee said on CBS's Face the Nation. "And, obviously, they have done enormous deals together, that that would colour his approach to Vladimir Putin and the Russian threat."
Trump's former foreign policy adviser Carter Page told a Russian audience in Moscow Monday (12 December) that he is, "personally excited about Rex Tillerson." Page, who advised Trump on the campaign trail until he was fired in July after it was revealed he met with high-level Russian officials, spoke at the government's Rossiya Segodnya news agency.
Page he had recently met with executives from Rosneft. "There are some forces in the septic tank in Washington who've been looking to hold us back," he said of Obama's administration.
"There's a lot to be optimistic about," under Trump, he said, "and it's a reflection of the great enthusiasm you have from these individuals."