PUTIN'S CHENEY JAB UNDERSCORES G-8 TENSION
By JIM HEINTZ, Associated Press Writer Wed Jul 12, 2:00 PM ET
MOSCOW - President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday called Vice President Dick Cheney's criticism of Russia "an unsuccessful hunting
shot," a caustic comment that underlines tensions ahead of the Group of Eight summit this weekend.
Under fire from critics
who say his country does not deserve to be in the G-8 because of democratic backsliding during his more than six years in
power, a confident Putin said the elite club of wealthy nations needs Russia because of its energy riches and nuclear might.
In three interviews with
Western TV networks posted on the Kremlin Web site Wednesday, days before the summit in St. Petersburg, Putin set out what sounded like
ground rules for dealing with an increasingly assertive Russia,
saying his nation is open for constructive criticism but will not be pushed around.
Because of its economic
weakness following the Soviet collapse of 1991, other nations countries had strong levers of influence on Russia, Putin said an interview with France's
"Today these levers have
been lost, but some of our partners have retained the desire to influence our foreign and domestic policies," he said. "They
must get rid of this desire as fast as possible and shift to the normal, equal relations of partners."
Putin reserved his most
acerbic words for Cheney, who angered the Kremlin with a May speech in the ex-Soviet republic
of Lithuania in which he accused Russia
of cracking down on religious and political rights and of using its energy reserves as "tools of intimidation or blackmail."
"I think the statements
of this sort by your vice president are the same as an unsuccessful hunting shot. It's pretty much the same," Putin said in
an interview with NBC, referring mischievously to the errant shot by Cheney that wounded a companion on a hunting trip.
Putin, who is sensitive
about growing U.S. influence in former Soviet republics and satellites that have turned westward since the Soviet collapse,
said he believed Cheney's comments were driven by "political considerations, the desire to support certain political forces
in Eastern Europe" at Russia's expense.
"It bothers me that ...
this approach is based on a 20th-century foreign policy philosophy under which our partners always acted from the need to
hold Russia back, seeing it as a political opponent at a minimum, or as an enemy," he said. "This is a rudiment of Cold War
Putin offered his standard
arguments against Cheney's criticism, saying Moscow has always
fulfilled its natural gas supply contracts with European countries. He contended that while it is impossible to build democracy
swiftly after centuries of czarist and communist rule, Russian democracy compares favorably in some ways to that of the West.
"In your country ... the
president is elected not directly ... but through a system of electors," he told NBC, referring to the Electoral College. "And in our country, in Russia, the president ... is elected by a direct secret vote of the entire population.
Where is there more democracy in deciding the most important question about power?"
Putin, who regularly makes
distinctions between outspoken critics among politicians in foreign countries and the leaders who tend to speak less vehemently,
seemed to set Cheney apart from President Bush,
calling him "my partner and friend" and suggesting that he is no longer mired in Cold War thinking.
With some in the West arguing
that Russia does not deserve a spot in the G-8 — let alone the presidency, which it holds this year and which Putin
is using to bolster its international clout — Putin told NBC he sees his country as "a natural member of the club."
"It would be difficult to
imagine the effective resolution of the problems we see as today as the most acute for the world economy and world security,"
he said, adding that Russia has "four times more proven oil and gas reserves than all the other G-8 countries taken together"
and is "one of the mightiest nuclear powers."
Despite the criticism and
warnings to the West, Putin also stressed that Russia shares "common aims" with the United States and other G-8 nations and
is not out to confront them or undermine their efforts on issues such as Iran and North Korea.
"The difference is only
in the path to the solution of this problem or that one," he told NBC.