Putin ups anti-US rhetoric ahead of Kremlin return
Russia's Vladimir Putin implicated Washington Thursday in the killing of Moamer Kadhafi and savaged Senator John McCain in an extraordinary attack on US policies ahead of his likely return to the Kremlin next year.
The Russian premier also lamented the Soviet Union's break-up and threw the same barbs at the West that made him so popular with Russian nationalists on his first rise the presidency in 2000.
"We would like to be allies with the United States. But what I see now ... is not an alliance," Putin said flatly in his annual televised phone-in with Russians.
"I sometimes feel that America does not need allies. It needs vassals," he added in reference to the servants and slaves that served masters in feudal times.
The ex-KGB spy's verbal assault threatens to undo a three-year US effort to "reset" relations with Russia and make it into a reliable ally amid soaring tensions around Syria and Iran -- two states with decades-old links to Moscow.
Putin turned practically stone-faced when asked about a tweet from ex-US presidential contender and old personal foe McCain warning Russia it faced an "Arab spring" revolt over its disputed December 4 parliamentary poll.
"Mr McCain fought in Vietnam. I think that he has enough blood of peaceful citizens on his hands. It must be impossible for him to live without these disgusting scenes anymore," Putin said in reference to Kadhafi's bloody end.
"Who did this?" Putin demanded. "Drones, including American ones.
"They attacked his column. Then using the radio -- through the special forces, who should not have been there -- they brought in the so-called opposition and fighters, and killed him without court or investigation."
The Pentagon immediately dismissed the charge as "ludicrous".
Russia had initially allowed NATO's air campaign in Libya to go ahead by abstaining in a UN Security Council vote. But it then vehemently criticised a campaign that Putin at one stage compared to a Western "crusade".
The 59-year-old strongman is widely expected to win March presidential polls despite a dip in public approval and mass street protests -- the first of his rule -- over the outcome of this month's legislative elections.
Putin last week blamed US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of sparking the rallies by questioning the vote's legitimacy and had earlier accused the State Department of trying to destabilise Russia by funding the opposition.
But his attack on McCain was hard-hitting even by Putin standards and suggested that he had lost none of the venom since leaving the Kremlin in 2008.
"Mr McCain was taken prisoner in Vietnam," said Putin in one his trademark personal attacks on a rival.
"And he did not just stay in prison -- they put him in a hole in the ground. He spent several years there -- anyone would go nuts."
McCain responded to Putin's tirade with mocking humour by tweeting: "Dear Vlad, is it something I said?"
Putin has spent years carefully crafting a strongman image, that combines feats such as hunting and whaling, with a Cold War-style foreign policy that recalls Moscow's might and seems to have especially appealed to voters.
He has famously called the Soviet Union's break-up a "catastrophe" and on Thursday expressed sorrow that Soviet leaders did not "consistently, fearlessly and steadfastly ... fight for the territorial integrity" of the USSR.
"This shows us that this is the same old Putin," said Russia in Global Affairs editor Fyodor Lukyanov.
"He is still carrying the same diplomatic baggage he did at the end of his last presidency" in 2008.
© 2011 AFP