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Putin responds to leaked documents, cautioning US

Russian leader interviewed on ‘Larry King’

By Ellen Barry
New York Times / December 2, 2010

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MOSCOW — Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin responded yesterday to criticism of Russia revealed in US diplomatic cables published by the website WikiLeaks, warning Washington not to interfere in Russian domestic affairs.

His comments, made in an interview broadcast on CNN’s “Larry King Live,’’ referred to a cable that said “Russian democracy has disappeared’’ and described the government as “an oligarchy run by the security services,’’ a statement attributed to the American defense secretary, Robert M. Gates.

In excerpts of the interview released by CNN, Putin said that Gates was “deeply misled.’’ Asked about a cable that described President Dmitry A. Medvedev as “playing Robin to Putin’s Batman,’’ he said the author “aimed to slander one of us.’’

King, whose program is carried around the world, has long had a reputation for softball questions. So Putin’s decision to appear on the show allowed his voice to be heard both in the United States and abroad while avoiding being challenged on contentious topics like his own grip on power and the limits on human rights in Russia.

In the interview, Putin also warned that Russia will develop and deploy new nuclear weapons if the United States does not accept its proposals on integrating Russian and European missile defense forces — amplifying a comment made by Medvedev in his annual state of the nation address Tuesday.

“We’ve just put forward a proposal showing how jointly working, tackling the shared problem of security, could share responsibility between ourselves,’’ he said. “But if our proposals will be met with only negative answers, and if on top of that additional threats are built near our borders as this, Russia will have to ensure her own security through different means,’’ including “new nuclear missile technologies.’’

Putin said Moscow would like to avoid this situation.

“This is no threat,’’ he said. “We are simply saying this is what we expect to happen if we don’t agree on a joint effort.’’

Last month, during a NATO-Russia summit meeting in Lisbon, the delegations discussed President Obama’s invitation for Russia to take some role in the future missile shield.

At that meeting, Medvedev proposed “sectoral missile defense,’’ which would divide the missile defense shield into “zones of responsibility,’’ and involve coordination between the European and Russian sectors, said Dmitri V. Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center. According to this plan, Russia would shoot down missiles flying over its territory toward Europe, and NATO would shoot down missiles flying over European territory toward Russia, he said.

NATO’s proposals for cooperation are less ambitious, and some members remain mistrustful of Russian involvement, he said.

Putin appeared relaxed in the hourlong interview with King. He said he was thankful for Obama’s softening of rhetoric toward Russia and for his revision of a planned missile defense shield in Europe.

He played down the impact of the WikiLeaks release and went on to suggest that the cables might be fakes.

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