MOSCOW - President Vladimir Putin struck an unusually conciliatory tone in his annual state of the nation address on Thursday, saying Moscow wanted to get on with the incoming US administration and was looking to make friends not enemies.

Putin has used previous set-piece speeches to lash out at the West and the United States in particular, but he reined in his criticism this time round and focused most of his speech on domestic social and economic issues.

“We don’t want confrontation with anyone. We don’t need it. We are not seeking and have never sought enemies. We need friends,” Putin told Russia’s political elite gathered in one of the Kremlin’s grandest halls. “We are ready to cooperate with the new US administration. We have a shared responsibility to ensure international security.”

Any US-Russia co-operation would have to be mutually beneficial and even-handed, he said.  Putin has spoken previously of his hope that US President-elect Donald Trump may help restore tattered US-Russia relations, and analysts said he was unlikely to want to dial up anti-Western rhetoric before Trump’s inauguration in January.  The Russian leader said he was hoping to find common ground with Washington on fighting global terrorism in particular.

That was a reference to Syria where Moscow is backing President Bashar al-Assad, while the outgoing US administration has supported anti-Assad rebels.

Russia hopes Trump will give Russia a freer hand there and cooperate militarily to fight Islamic State. Putin’s tone may have been softer than usual, but he still made it clear that Russia would continue to robustly stand up for its own interests.

Complaining about what he said were “myths” about Russian aggression and Russian meddling in other countries’ elections, he said Moscow wanted to independently decide its own fate. “We will build our future without advice from anyone else,” said Putin. The main target of Putin’s speech appeared to be the Russian people though. His message was that the worst of a grinding economic crisis was in the past and that it was now time to focus on improving living standards by investing more heavily in education and health.

The next presidential election takes place in 2018, and though he has not said yet if he will seek another term, Putin is widely expected to run.

In a pointed aside, Kremlin strongman added that Russia would nevertheless “not allow its interests to be infringed upon.” Russia finds itself locked in its worst standoff with the West since the Cold War over its 2014 annexation of Crimea, the conflict in Ukraine and lingering disagreements about the conflict in Syria.

Meanwhile, Russia Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called Thursday for a fresh start in relations with the United States under Donald Trump and fired a parting shot at outgoing President Barack Obama. “We are confident that the new administration does not want to repeat the errors of the outgoing one, which deliberately destroyed US-Russian relations,” Lavrov was quoted as saying in an interview with Italian daily Corriere della Sera. Trump’s election victory and the positive noises he has made towards Moscow have been greeted with trepidation in Ukraine and former communist states that are now part of the US-led NATO alliance.

During the campaign, Trump praised President Vladimir Putin and said he would seek to improve relations with Moscow while casting doubt on Washington’s commitments to its NATO allies.

Lavrov told Corriere: “Naturally we positively welcomed the willingness for cooperation between our two countries shown by Trump during the election campaign.

“On our part we are always available for a honest, pragmatic dialogue with Washington on all bilateral and global questions...”

He added: “We hope that the new president’s fledgling foreign policy team will take concrete steps in this direction and that the cooperation will be constructive.”

Lavrov defended Russia’s build-up of forces in areas close to ex-Soviet NATO states as a response to the Western allies “political-military pressure on our country” which had obliged Moscow to “take appropriate measures for our defence and national security.”

Lavrov was in Rome to attend a conference on Mediterranean security issues, during which he was due to meet with his US counterpart, John Kerry.