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SOCHI, Russia — Moscow won't shy away from confrontation with the next US president no matter what the stakes, the Kremlin's top spokesman told NBC News on Friday.
"We'll do whatever is necessary to keep our national interests safe," Dmitry Peskov said in an exclusive interview.
"We're still quite a strong country that is capable of preserving its own national interests," Peskov said when asked about how Moscow will react to an explicitly antagonistic American president.
Peskov added that Russia is ready to deal with either Democrat Hillary Clinton or Republican Donald Trump as U.S. commander-in-chief, provided they reach out to Moscow.
If Trump "stands for a good relationship with Russia, he is more than welcome here," Peskov said, speaking on the sidelines of the Valdai expert forum in the southern city of Sochi.
And "if Hilary Clinton is going to be elected by the Americans, and if she is ready to make a step towards Russia, she is more than welcome," he added.
Trump has praised the Russian president and said he was willing to work with Putin. Clinton has often criticized Putin throughout her career, even prompting him to accuse her of election meddling over her criticism of the Russian presidential vote of 2012, widely alleged to have been rigged.
More recently, Clinton has accused the Kremlin of hacking Democratic Party servers and voting machines in the United States, as well of war crimes in Syria, where Russian warplanes have shored up the regime of embattled strongman Bashar al-Assad and are now aiding him in the battle for Aleppo.
In his interview to NBC News, Peskov denied allegations about both the hacks and the war crimes. But he indicated Russia would not back down from its own hard line on Syria, where it claims to be solely battling extremists.
"Don't speak to terrorists — you have to kill terrorists," Peskov said.