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World Putin wants improved relations with Canada, but only after “specific steps”

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during his meeting with heads of international news agencies at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum in St. Petersburg, Russia, on June 17, 2016.

Dmitry Lovetsky/AP

Russian President Vladimir Putin says he wants to work with Canada's new Liberal government to improve relations, but he won't say how.

Putin said Friday relations between Canada and Russia have a chance to be re-established after the new prime minister came to power, as he recalled meeting Justin Trudeau at last fall's G20 summit in Turkey.

"For this there should be some specific steps, which should be made by both sides," Putin said in response to a question on the state of Russia-Canada relations from The Canadian Press at an international gathering of the leaders of world news agencies in St. Petersburg, Russia.

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But the enigmatic Russian leader wouldn't say what those next steps would be.

"The prime minister himself said when we were at G20 in Antalya that he thinks how we should re-establish the relations in full. We welcome this . . . and will get down to this task, to work together."

Trudeau's version of his conversation with Putin at the G20 summit — the prime minister's first international meeting after being sworn in — did not mention establishing full relations with Russia.

At the time, Trudeau said: "I pointed out that although Canada has shifted its approach on a broad range of multilateral and international issues, we remain committed to the fact that Russia's interference in Ukraine must cease."

The previous Harper government downgraded relations with Russia in the wake of its unilateral annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and its backing of pro-Russian separatist forces in eastern Ukraine. At the 2014 G20 summit in Australia, then prime minister Stephen Harper told Putin to "get out" of Ukraine when he bumped into the Russia leader.

The Liberals maintain that Canada needs to open a diplomatic dialogue with Russia because of shared interests, such as the Arctic, but that doesn't mean it agrees with Putin's aggressive posture towards Eastern Europe.

In recent days, NATO has taken steps to bolster its forces on its eastern flank in response to the Ukraine crisis by deciding to deploy four multinational battalions to Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. The Russian ambassador to NATO criticized that move on Thursday, saying the plan would erode regional security and could turn the region into a conflict zone.

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Putin deflected a question from The Canadian Press about possible Canadian participation in those deployments, and instead launched into a lengthy denunciation of the United States for deploying its ground-based missile system in Poland. Putin reiterated the Russian position that missile shields are a threat because they upset the nuclear deterrent that has kept peace between the two nuclear powers throughout the Cold War and afterwards.

"The strategic balance used to guarantee peace in the world. It saved us from major armed conflicts in the past 70 years. It's based on a mutual threat, but this mutual threat has given us global peace for decades. How can we destroy this?"

On that point, Putin added a message for Canada — which has not joined any U.S. missile defence program.

"If Canada wants to join — join it! What else can I say? We could not dictate to you what to do. Do what you want. And we will do what we think is necessary to provide our security."

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