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Putin, criticizing US policies, vows to boost Russian forces

MOSCOW -- President Vladimir V. Putin, in a blunt response to US criticism of his domestic and foreign policies, declared yesterday that Russia will boost its military strength to ensure its ability to resist foreign pressure.

In an annual address to the legislature, Putin said new nuclear and high-precision weapons will enable his country to maintain a balance with the United States, which he compared to a wolf -- the villain of Russian fairy tales -- doing as it pleases in the world.

''As they say, 'Comrade Wolf knows whom to swallow,' " Putin said. ''He swallows without listening to anyone. Nor does he intend to listen to anyone, judging by all appearances." Putin did not seem to signal a return to Cold War hostility so much as a bid to engage in bargaining on international issues and to reject interference in domestic politics.

''We have slipped toward Cold War rhetoric quite a while ago, and such passages in Putin's speech are nothing new in that sense," said Georgy Satarov, president of the INDEM Foundation, a Moscow research group that aims to promote democratic values.

Moscow's assertiveness results in part from increasing oil prices, which have fueled strong economic growth for seven years in this country, which has a wealth of petroleum resources.

Putin said that despite recent increases in Russian military funding, the United States spends almost 25 times as much as Moscow. Putin went on to ridicule those who assert ''the need to fight for human rights and democracy" when they in fact have ''the need to realize their own interests."

Putin's remarks implied criticism of such US policies as the invasion of Iraq to topple former President Saddam Hussein, an action that Moscow opposed.

His words also appeared to be a response to US accusations that Russia has curtailed democratic freedoms at home and has tried to bully former Soviet states.

Putin said yesterday that because the United States so heavily outspends Russia in the military sphere, Moscow's aim is not to match US forces in quantitative terms. ''We should not burn money uselessly," he said. ''Our responses should be based on intellectual superiority."

Over the next five years, Russia will ''substantially increase the provision of strategic nuclear forces with modern long-range planes, submarines and launchers," Putin said. ''Along with the means of overcoming the systems of antimissile defense, which we already have, new types of weapons enable us to preserve what is undoubtedly one of the most important guarantees of lasting peace, namely, the strategic balance of forces."

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