UPDATE: 7:42 a.m. EST – Vladimir Putin said he welcomed comments by U.S. Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump on wanting improved relations with Russia.
"He is a very flamboyant man, very talented, no doubt about that... He is an absolute leader of the presidential race, as we see it today. He says that he wants to move to another level of relations, to a deeper level of relations with Russia. How can we not welcome that? Of course we welcome it," Putin said.
UPDATE: 7:25 a.m. EST – The February killing of Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov should be investigated and the culprit punished, Russian President Vladimir Putin said toward the end of his annual press conference Thursday.
Putin said that he knew the 55-year-old Nemtsov personally. Nemtsov was shot dead on Feb. 27 on a bridge near the Kremlin. Putin added that the he did not discuss the issue with the leadership of Chechnya province, whose residents have been in custody on suspicion of involvement in the murder.
UPDATE: 7:05 a.m. EST -- Before ending his 3-hours long annual conference Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Moscow did not view the newly formed Saudi-led coalition in the Middle East as having an “anti Russian, Islamist” approach. He also called on a global effort to fight terrorism.
"We don't think that alliance will have an anti-Russian character. Turkey conducted a hostile act against our aviation but it would still be wrong to call Turkey an enemy country," he said. Putin also added that he did not understand why the alliance was formed as a majority of its members were already part of the U.S.-led coalition.
"Maybe it's a disagreement, because there are regional interests of regional powers, and then there's the universal interest in fighting terrorism, and they are quite separate things," Putin said, adding that Russia has cooperated with Saudi Arabia even with their opposing views on the Syrian crisis.
UPDATE: 6:45 a.m. EST -- Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that Moscow was working with Egypt to reinstate air links that it discontinued after a Russian passenger plane crashed over Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula region on Oct. 30.
Putin said that Russia suspended air travel with Egypt, blaming it for not being able to guarantee the safety of Russian nationals. However, he noted that the decision was not political. Putin added that air travel to Egypt would be restarted after Egyptian authorities plan out measures to ensure safety. Moscow insists that the plane, with 224 on board, was brought down by a bomb, but Egypt maintains that there was no sign of a terrorist act in the crash.
Moscow is ready to better ties with Washington and is willing to work with whoever is elected the next U.S. president, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday. Putin was addressing his annual press conference in Moscow.
The Russian president noted that his talks with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry earlier this week indicated that Washington, too, was ready to "move toward settling the issues that can only be settled through joint efforts."
The Russian leader also talked about Moscow’s role in Turkey, Syria and Ukraine during the annual event. Russia’s ties with Turkey and Ukraine remain strained and Moscow has an ongoing air campaign in Syria against the Islamic State group.
Putin, who called for a speedy settlement of the conflict in eastern Ukraine, urged the Ukrainian government to swiftly pass a legislation to hold local elections. Putin added that while Russia does not have regular troops in eastern Ukraine, certain military tasks have been performed in the region.
Putin also told reporters in Moscow that Russia will discuss a possible exchange of prisoners with Ukraine, provided it is “equal.” He pointed out that Russia was not mulling any sanctions against Ukraine, but added that Ukraine will not get any trade preferences from January 2016.
Amid rising tensions with Turkey, Putin slammed Ankara’s move to call NATO after it shot down a Russian fighter jet on the Syrian border in November. The downing of the Su-24M warplane was a “hostile act,” he said.
“They [Turkey] shot down our plane and killed our servicemen. Even if they're telling the truth when they say they didn't know whose plane it was, what should you do in that situation? Grab the phone and explain what happened. Instead they called Brussels,” Putin said, according to the Telegraph.
Putin further said that he did not see an improvement in ties between the two countries under the current Turkish leadership. "The Turks", he said, "decided to lick the Americans in a certain place."
He added that Turkey would not violate Syrian airspace after Russia strengthened its air campaign in the war-torn country.
Meanwhile, Moscow’s military operation in Syria will continue until Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime begins negotiations, the Russian leader said. Once the Syrians decide it's time to stop fighting and launch talks, "we aren't going to be more Syrian than the Syrians themselves," and Moscow will finish its military action, the Associated Press reported him as saying.
It remained unclear if Russia will need a military base in Latakia, a Syrian coastal province, once the air campaign completes. Putin stressed that Russia “did not start a war” in Syria by launching the airstrikes.
Closer home, Moscow sought to mend relations with Georgia after their five-day war in August 2008. The Russian president said that his country was poised to cancel visa necessities for Georgian nationals.
Putin said that appointment of former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili as regional governor in Ukraine was "a spit in the face of the Ukrainian people." Saakashvili, who led Georgia during the 2008 war, has long been Putin’s political foe.
The president also sought to calm fears over the country's economic slump during Thursday's conference. The Russian leader said that his country has passed the peak of the economic crisis and the government expects gross domestic product growing by 0.7 percent next year.
Putin said that in 2014, Kremlin formed economic predictions based on oil at $100 a barrel, but as crude prices fell by half, the government had to recalculate its budget. The prediction of $50 per barrel for 2016 was “too optimistic,” he added.
The Russian leader said his government will not rush to change the budget, adding that interest rate cuts cannot be forced on its central bank and should be based on economic reality. He noted that inflation threatens Russia, unlike other countries that are facing deflation.