MOSCOW - Russian President Vladimir Putin called for "pragmatic cooperation" in his New Year wishes to US President Donald Trump, the Kremlin said on Saturday.

In a statement on the Russian president's New Year wishes to world leaders, the Kremlin said Putin told Trump that "a constructive Russian-American dialogue is especially needed to strengthen strategic stability in the world".

According to the statement, Putin said that "mutual respect" should be "a base to develop relations" between the two countries. "This would allow us to move towards building pragmatic cooperation, orientated on the long term," the statement quoted Putin as saying.

The Russian president also sent messages to other heads of state, including the leaders of former Soviet countries, France's Emmanuel Macron, Germany's Angela Merkel and Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad.

In his wishes to the Syrian leader, with whom he met during a surprise visit to Russia's Syrian air base Hmeimim earlier this month, Putin "expressed sincere hope that key changes for the better will continue in Syria in the new year".

The statement added that Putin told Assad "Russia will continue to show all kind of support to the Syrian Arab Republic in order to protect its state sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity".

Russia became involved in the Syrian conflict in September 2015, when it began an aerial campaign in support of Assad's military. Putin ordered a partial withdrawal of the Russian army from Syria earlier this month.

On ordering the partial withdrawal, Putin praised his country's armed forces for having "brilliantly accomplished" their mission which saw Syrian government forces make major gains from jihadists and assorted anti-regime rebel groups.

Russia does retain a military presence in Syria, however, through its naval base at Tartus, whose expansion Moscow agreed earlier this month, as well as Hmeimim, where Russian singers performed a New Year variety show Saturday.

Moscow hopes to host government and rebel group representatives at the end of January in the Black Sea resort of Sochi to push both sides closer to a political settlement of a seven-year conflict which has cost more than 340,000 lives and displaced millions more.

 

Meanwhile, Russia's deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov on Saturday accused the United States of violating a key arms treaty by selling a missile defence system to Japan.

"The US is deploying them (missile defence systems) at their military bases in Romania and Poland, that is near our western borders, which goes against the 1987 INF Treaty banning the deployment of such systems on the ground," Ryabkov said in a statement published on the Russian Foreign Ministry website.

"The fact that such complexes could now appear on Russia's eastern borders creates a situation that we cannot ignore in our military planning," said Ryabkov.

On Thursday, Russia's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the deployment of the US missile defence system would have a negative impact on relations between Tokyo and Moscow.

"We consider the step made by the Japanese side as going against efforts of ensuring peace and stability in the region," Zakharova said, adding that Moscow has "deep regret and serious concern" over the move.

On December 19, the Japanese government approved the installation of two land-based US-made Aegis Ashore missile defence systems to defend the country against North Korea's growing nuclear and missile threats.

Japan plans to increase its budget defence for the next fiscal year to strengthen its missile defence against the threat posed by its neighbour.

Earlier this month Japan's defence minister, Itsunori Onodera, said the country plans to purchase long-range cruise missiles with a range of some 900 kilometres (560 miles) from US firms.

The move is controversial as Japan's pacifist constitution bans the use of force as a means of settling international disputes.

After North Korea launched a missile over Japan's Hokkaido island in September, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he would "never tolerate" North Korea's "dangerous provocative action" and has urged the international community to ramp up pressure on Pyongyang.

North Korea has threatened to "sink" Japan into the sea.

Global anxiety about North Korea has steadily risen this year, with Washington calling on other UN members to cut ties with Pyongyang in order to squeeze the secretive regime.

The call, however, has fallen short of persuading key North Korea backers China and Russia to take steps to isolate the regime.