Putin warns West not to blackmail Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin accused his US counterpart Barack Obama of a hostile approach towards Russia, warning in a Cold War-style tirade that Moscow would not be blackmailed by the West over Ukraine. -- PHOTO: AFP
Russian President Vladimir Putin accused his US counterpart Barack Obama of a hostile approach towards Russia, warning in a Cold War-style tirade that Moscow would not be blackmailed by the West over Ukraine. -- PHOTO: AFP

BELGRADE (AFP) - President Vladimir Putin accused his US counterpart Barack Obama of a hostile approach towards Russia, warning in a Cold War-style tirade that Moscow would not be blackmailed by the West over Ukraine.

Mr Putin fired off his combative comments in a interview with a Serbian newspaper, shortly before he arrives in Belgrade Thursday to a hero's welcome from Russia's loyal ally.

Belgrade is staging its first military parade in 30 years to mark the 70th anniversary of its liberation from Nazi occupation - an event brought forward by four days to coincide with the visit by the Kremlin strongman.

In some of his most pugnacious comments yet on Russia-US ties, Putin took issue with Mr Obama's speech at the UN General Assembly last month, when he listed "Russia's aggression" in eastern Ukraine among top global threats, along with Islamic State in Iraq and Syria militants and Ebola.

He told the Serbian daily Politika it was "hard to call such an approach anything but hostile".

"We are hoping our partners will understand the recklessness of attempts to blackmail Russia, (and) remember what discord between large nuclear powers can do to strategic stability," Mr Putin said.

He branded attempts by the West to isolate Russia over the six-month conflict in Ukraine "a completely absurd, illusory goal" and accused Washington of meddling in his country's affairs.

Mr Putin, who is set to meet Ukrainian leader Petro Poroshenko in Milan on Friday, called on Kiev to start nationwide dialogue, saying "a real opportunity has appeared to halt military confrontation, essentially civil war".

Mr Putin reiterated that Moscow was ready to mend fences with Washington but only if its interests are genuinely taken into account.

Russia is at loggerheads with the West over its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in March and its support for separatist fighters in the former Soviet country's eastern belt.

Mr Putin's predecessor Dmitry Medvedev spearheaded a "re-set" in ties with Washington but relations have quickly unravelled since Putin returned to the Kremlin for a third term in 2012.

Russia is now facing its deepest period of Western isolation since the Cold War, with US and EU sanctions dealing a blow to its already stuttering economy.

Despite the distinct Western diplomatic chill, Putin can count on a warm welcome in Belgrade, which has refused to align with the EU sanctions against Moscow.

He will be given a red carpet welcome in Belgrade, where he is expected to address the crowds at the military parade involving more than 3,000 soldiers and featuring a Russian aerobatics display.