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Putin charges US with arms race

The Russian President attacks the US as a reckless power whose policies have led to war across the globe.

india Updated: Feb 11, 2007 17:34 IST

Russian President Vladimir Putin has attacked the United States as a reckless power that has made the world more dangerous by pursuing policies that have led to war, ruin and insecurity.

Putin stunned an audience that included US Defence Secretary Robert Gates and senior US and European officials with the speech Saturday at a high-level security conference in Munich.

The White House said it was "surprised and disappointed" by Putin's accusations and Gates was expected to respond on Sunday, in his first major speech since taking office.

In comments reminiscent of his campaign opposing the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, Putin said the United States had disastrously "overstepped" its borders.

"The United States has overstepped its borders in all spheres... and has imposed itself on other states," Putin told delegates at the annual Munich Conference on Security Policy.

Putin said a "unipolar" world "means in practice one thing: one centre of power, one centre of force, one centre of decision-making, a world of one master, one sovereign."

Such a situation "is extremely dangerous. No one feels secure because no one can hide behind international law," Putin said.

He added that US dominance was "ruinous."

"Local and regional wars didn't get fewer. The number of people who died didn't get less, but increased.... We see no kind of restraint."

Putin also rejected criticism that under his watch, Russia has back-tracked on democracy, saying that the United States was "permanently teaching Russia about democracy. But those who teach us, for some reason don't really want to study it themselves."

The speech added to tensions between the Kremlin and the United States, which have grown after a period of relative rapprochement in the 1990s.

Boosted by his country's oil wealth, the Russian leader has tried to restore Moscow's international clout, making common cause with fellow critics of the United States, notably Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, and maintaining a traditional friendship with Iran.

After what many Russians regard as the humiliation of the Soviet Union's collapse, the Kremlin plans to build up its defences and has vowed an effective response to US hopes of establishing a missile defence system close to Russia's borders in the Czech Republic and Poland.

That threat has fuelled fears of a new arms race reminiscent of the Cold War.

Putin drew immediate criticism from the White House.

National security spokesman Gordon Johndroe said: "We are surprised and disappointed with President Putin's comments.

"His accusations are wrong," he said.

"We expect to continue cooperation with Russia in areas important to the international community such as counter-terrorism and reducing the spread and threat of weapons of mass destruction."

Putin's speech also prompted dismay at the conference itself, which is traditionally pro-Western and devoted to the future of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO).

"I can't hide my disappointment. I will not hide my disappointment," said the NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.

Prominent US Republican Senator and presidential hopeful John McCain said that "today's world is not unipolar.... Russian leaders' apparent belief to the contrary raises a number of very difficult questions."

There was also criticism from Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, whose Baltic Sea country was unwillingly ruled from Moscow for most of the second half of the 20th century.

The EU should think carefully about how it deals with "a country that considers democracy on its borders as a threat, or despotism on its borders as a source of stability," said Ilves.

Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, was also likely to be in the spotlight when he addresses the conference Sunday.

The United States has been trying to increase pressure on Iran to give up its nuclear programme, which Tehran says is aimed only at generating electricity but Washington says is a cover for a weapons programme.