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Putin, on defensive, criticizes Cheney

MOSCOW -- President Vladimir Putin yesterday called Vice President Dick Cheney's criticism of Russia ``an unsuccessful hunting shot," a comment that underlines tensions ahead of the Group of Eight summit this weekend.

Under fire from critics who say his country does not deserve to be in the G-8 because of democratic backsliding during his more than six years in power, Putin said the elite club of wealthy nations needs Russia because of its energy riches and nuclear might.

Putin reserved his most acerbic words for Cheney, who angered the Kremlin with a speech in May in the ex-Soviet republic of Lithuania in which he accused Russia of cracking down on religious and political rights.

``I think the statements of this sort by your vice president are the same as an unsuccessful hunting shot. It's pretty much the same," Putin said in an interview with NBC, referring to the errant shot by Cheney that wounded a companion on a hunting trip.

Putin, sensitive about growing American influence in former Soviet republics and satellites , said he believed Cheney's comments were driven by ``political considerations, the desire to support certain political forces in Eastern Europe" at Russia's expense.

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