Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin made fresh accusations of US involvement in the Georgia conflict and rejected suggestions Moscow could target Ukraine next, in an interview aired on Saturday.
The powerful former Kremlin leader urged the European Union to refrain from imposing sanctions against Russia when it meets for an emergency summit on Monday.
A transcript of the interview to Germany’s ARD television was released by the Russian government on Saturday and excerpts were broadcast on Russian television.
Putin spoke after Georgia broke off diplomatic relations with Russia on Friday, three days after Moscow formally recognised the independence of two Georgian secessionist regions. “We know there were many US advisors there,” Putin said, reiterating remarks he had made in a previous interview to CNN. “But these instructors, teachers in a general sense, personnel who trained others to work on the supplied military equipment, are supposed to be in training centers and where were they? In the military operations zone,” he said.
“Why did the senior US leadership allow their citizens to be present there when they had no right to be in the security zone? And if they allowed it, I begin to suspect that it was done intentionally to organise a small victorious war.
“And if that failed, they wanted to create an enemy out of Russia and unite voters around one of the presidential candidates. Of course, a ruling party candidate, because it is only the ruling party that has this kind of resource,” he said.
The White House has dismissed the accusations as “patently false”. Putin also rejected suggestions from French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner that Russia could have designs on other former Soviet republics — specifically Ukraine — after sending troops deep inside Georgia this month. “We have long ago recognised the borders of modern-day Ukraine.”
Relations between Russia and Ukraine have been strained over Kiev’s demands that Moscow prepare the withdrawal of Russia’s Black Sea fleet from the Crimean port of Sevastopol, where the Russian fleet has been based for 200 years.
But Putin offered reassurances that the fleet will eventually leave Crimea: “We have an agreement with Ukraine about maintaining the presence of our fleet until the year 2017 and we will implement that agreement.”