Putin greets new U.S. envoy with demand not to interfere

By Timothy Heritage and Gabriela Baczynska MOSCOW (Reuters) - President Vladimir Putin greeted the new U.S. ambassador to Russia on Wednesday with a demand for Washington to treat Moscow as an equal partner and stay out of its internal affairs. The new envoy, John Tefft, said in a written statement after presenting his credentials that he wanted to strengthen "people-to-people" ties but there were serious differences over Ukraine. Their comments underlined the chasm between the former Cold War enemies as Tefft succeeds Michael McFaul, who was behind President Barack Obama's planned "reset" in relations with Russia and whose posting was marked by controversy and tension. Putin met Tefft with a slight smile and they then stood stiffly beside each other posing for photographers during a Kremlin ceremony for new ambassadors. "We are ready for practical cooperation with our American partners in different fields, based on the principles of respect for each others' interests, equal rights and non-interference in internal matters," Putin said in a short speech. His remarks were blunt though less fierce than some of his earlier criticism of Washington, which he has accused of trying to dominate world affairs and suppress Russia. The United States and the European Union have imposed sanctions on Moscow following its annexation of the Crimea peninsula from Ukraine and over its backing for separatists in the east opposed to Kiev's rule. In a statement issued after the ceremony, Tefft said he was committed to maintaining "open and frank lines of communication" with the Russian authorities. "We have serious differences over Russia’s policy in Ukraine. As President Obama said at the G20 summit in Brisbane, we hope Russia will choose 'a different path', to resolve the issue of Ukraine in a way that respects Ukraine’s sovereignty and is consistent with international law," he said. "We would prefer a Russia that is fully integrated with the global economy; that is thriving on behalf of its people; that can once again engage with us in cooperative efforts around global challenges.” Moscow approved the appointment of Tefft even though Russian officials said privately he was not entirely to their liking. Tefft was the United States' ambassador to Georgia during its short with Russia in 2008 and was the U.S. envoy to Ukraine for nearly four years until July last year. He was deputy chief of mission in Moscow in the second half of the 1990s. Other strains in ties are differences over regional conflicts such as the civil war in Syria, arms control and human rights issues, and Putin's treatment of opponents. (Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska, Editing by Timothy Heritage)