Putin: "We'll work with whichever president is elected by the American people"

Russia's President Vladimir Putin speaks with members of the Asia -Pacific Union Network International Trade Union Confederation, Sept. 3, 2012. Getty

(AP) MOSCOW — President Vladimir Putin says Russia can work with Mitt Romney if he's elected U.S. president, even though Romney has called Russia the United States' "No. 1 geopolitical foe."

In an interview broadcast Thursday by the Kremlin-funded Russia Today TV channel, Putin made his first direct comments about the Republican challenger to President Barack Obama.

Romney keeps up strong rhetoric on Russia

"We'll work with whichever president is elected by the American people. But our effort will be only as efficient as our partners will want it to be," Putin said.

Putin expressed concern about how a Romney presidency would affect the long-running dispute over U.S.-led NATO plans to place elements of a missile-defense system in Europe. Russia contends the system could undermine its own defenses.

Putin said if Romney is elected "the missile defense system will definitely be directed against Russia."

The wide-ranging interview showed Putin's acerbic and combative side, particularly on the issue of the two-year prison sentence imposed last month on three members of the provocateur band Pussy Riot for their "punk prayer" prank in Moscow's main cathedral entreating the Virgin Mary to save Russia from Putin.

Their conviction brought widespread criticism of Russia for stifling opposition and free speech.

Putin briefly sparred with the English-speaking interviewer over how the band's name could be translated into Russian, saying "I think you wouldn't do it because it sounds too obscene, even in English."

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