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Europe

Putin Denies Imperial Ambitions as Russia Warns Ukraine

Russia's powerful Premier Vladimir Putin said Thursday, Sept. 11 that his country no longer had any "imperial ambitions" and dismissed fears of a new Cold War with the West despite Moscow issuing a warning to Ukraine.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin sees no need for talk of Cold War

War between Moscow and its former Soviet vassal Georgia last month electrified old fears in Europe, and Russia's relations with the West plunged to lows reminiscent of the Cold War.

But Putin sought to reassure the West of his position.

"We do not have any ideological contradictions that could serve as the basis for a new Cold War," local media quoted him as saying at a Kremlin round table in Russia's Black Sea resort of Sochi.

"Quite the opposite, we have many common problems that can only be resolved together," Putin said.

Crimea may be next: Kouchner

Russia's Black Sea Fleet in action

Russia's Black Sea Fleet is based at Sevastopol on the Crimea Peninsula

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner warned in the wake of the conflict that the Kremlin could again resort to force to carry to term imperialist designs on Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula, where Moscow rents a port for its Black Sea fleet.

But speaking to Western experts at the round table Thursday, Putin said, "We have none of the imperialist ambitions of which we are accused."

The former president, who once called the end of the USSR the greatest disaster ever to befall Russia, said: "If it hadn't been for Russia, the USSR would still exist today."

"Russia initiated the end of the USSR," Putin was quoted by Interfax as saying Thursday. "We made this decision a long time ago, and we do not have any desire or any intention to encroach on the sovereignty of republics of the former USSR."

Russian forces must re-arm: Medvedev

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev believes Russia must re-arm after Georgia conflict

On the ground in Georgia there were increasing signs that Russian forces were withdrawing in line with a pledge on Monday by President Dmitry Medvedev after he met an EU delegation in Moscow.

Russian troops were expected to leave five checkpoints around the Georgian port of Poti and the town of Senaki by Monday. An AFP reporter saw soldiers packing up three posts.

But Medvedev said Georgia's August 7 assault on the Moscow-backed breakaway region of South Ossetia meant Russia would have to think about re-arming its military.

"We should concentrate on questions of military re-equipment," Medvedev said at a Kremlin meeting. "Without any doubt this decision is influenced by the crisis in the Caucasus, Georgia's aggression and its continued militarization."

Ukraine in Russia's scopes

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko' pro-Western government is in Moscow's sights

International tensions over the Georgia crisis flared with Russia accusing Ukraine's pro-Western government of taking an "unfriendly" stance over the war and of infringing the rights of Russian-speaking residents. Ukraine is a strong ally of Georgia.

"Ukrainian authorities have recently been pursuing policies that cannot be seen as anything other than unfriendly towards Russia," a strongly worded foreign ministry statement said.

Western officials have expressed concern that Ukraine's large ethnic Russian population could leave it exposed to intervention from Moscow, with the EU's enlargement commissioner warning Ukraine could be Russia's "next target."

Putin sought to reassure the West that this was not the case.

"We do not have any desire or basis for infringing the sovereignty of former Soviet republics," the Russian leader said in Sochi.

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