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Russians hope Mueller report opens door to improved US ties

There was crowing in Russia on Monday that special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation did not find coordination between Moscow and the Trump campaign in 2016

[MOSCOW] There was crowing in Russia on Monday that the special counsel's investigation did not find coordination between Moscow and the Trump campaign in 2016, but optimism about improved relations was tempered by the report's extensive focus on Russian meddling in the presidential election.

Official reaction to a summary of Robert Mueller's report that was released Sunday proved decidedly muted.

Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for President Vladimir Putin, told reporters that the only news in the summary was the "recognition that there wasn't any collusion," and he repeated his denial that Russia had interfered in the US election. Mr Putin has maintained a steady interest in good relations with the United States, he said, while US actions toward Russia have been erratic, so the ball is in Washington's court.

From others in the Kremlin elite, however, the main refrain was "we told you so," along with some hope that President Donald Trump would now be free to pursue his campaign goal of improving relations with Russia.

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Konstantin Kosachev, head of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the upper house of the Russian Parliament, said he regretted the two lost years during which Russia-US relations were hampered by sanctions and continued accusations of wrongdoing. Various officials and analysts said they hoped that there would be new initiatives soon toward Russia from the Trump administration, but there were varying degrees of optimism about when this might happen and how substantial they might be.

"To some extent, the leader of the United States now has greater room to manoeuvre, which, in principle, he can use," Mr Kosachev wrote.

Still, he noted, Congress retains significant control over lifting sanctions and hawks like John Bolton, Mr Trump's national security adviser, will not necessarily endorse improving ties.

There are, of course, serious issues dividing Moscow and the West that are unrelated to the 2016 election or the Mueller investigation: Russia's aggression against Ukraine, its alliance with Iran and support for President Bashar Assad in Syria's civil war, its backing of President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela and the poisoning of a retired Russian spy and his daughter with a nerve agent in Britain.

"I don't think this will change much," said Alexei  Makarkin, an analyst with the Center for Political Technologies, a Moscow think tank. The myriad areas of conflict "do not allow us to consider these relations with optimism," he said.