U.S. Foreign Policy No Example, Premier Says

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin compared the United States to a "frightening monster" on Friday and urged France to distance itself from its American ally.

"How can one be such a shining example of democracy at home and a frightening monster abroad?" Putin said in an interview with French newspaper Le Monde transmitted live to journalists in Paris.

Putin, speaking the day after meeting French President Nicolas Sarkozy, said the United States was creating "new Berlin Walls" in Europe by pushing NATO to expand into ex-Soviet states Georgia and Ukraine.

The prime minister, who passed on the presidency earlier this month to his handpicked successor, Dmitry Medvedev, continues to set the foreign and domestic policy agenda. Under Putin's eight-year presidency, Russia clashed with the United States and the European Union over matters such as NATO expansion and a planned U.S. missile defense system in Eastern Europe.

"France, I hope, will continue to conduct an independent foreign policy," said Putin. "This is in the nature of French people, they don't want their country tied down, and any French leader will have to respect that."

The election of Medvedev, 42, a lawyer who has called for more dialogue between the East and West, has raised hopes of an eventual thaw. Still, Sarkozy decided to meet with Putin, breaking with the tradition of Group of Eight leaders of dealing with Russia at a presidential level.

Under the Constitution, the Russian president is supposed to be solely responsible for foreign policy and has more formal authority than the prime minister, who can be fired by presidential decree and is charged with implementing Kremlin policies.

Asked about the division of power between himself and Medvedev, Putin said his successor had "the final word."

At the same time, Putin slipped up by referring to himself as the president. French Prime Minister Francois Fillon at a news conference Thursday mistakenly called Putin the president three times.

Putin "remains the pre-eminent power" in Russia, said Michael Emerson, a former EU ambassador to Moscow and an analyst at the Centre for European Policy Studies in Brussels. "The EU has to deal with the people who are there, both of them."