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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putin Looks to Preempt Criticism

President Vladimir Putin took a jab at U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney over a hunting accident Wednesday, apparently hoping to pre-empt any Western criticism of a rollback of democracy at this weekend's G8 summit.

Cheney accused the Kremlin of using its energy resources as "tools of intimidation and blackmail" and of curbing civil liberties during a visit to Lithuania in May.

Putin, in his first direct response to Cheney's sharp criticism, drew a parallel between the remarks and Cheney's accidental shooting of a lawyer during a Texas bird hunt in February. The lawyer was wounded.

"I think these sort of remarks by your vice president are the same as an unfortunate hunting shot. It's pretty much the same," Putin told a reporter from the U.S. television network NBC, according to a transcript provided by the Kremlin web site.

Putin, who is to host the Group of Eight summit in St. Petersburg starting Saturday, gave interviews to U.S., French and Canadian television channels. He is to hold one-on-one talks Friday with U.S. President George W. Bush, who has promised to "gently" scold Putin on Russia's anti-democratic course.

All three television interviews, which contained strikingly similar wording, appeared to warn Western politicians not to treat Russia as a Cold War-era enemy and not to try to influence the country with calls for democratic reform. Calls for reform have been raised at home and abroad in recent months, most recently at "The Other Russia" conference that wrapped up in Moscow on Wednesday.

"I am concerned that this approach is based in the philosophy of the 20th century, when our partners always intended to harm Russia, seeing it as a political opponent or even as an enemy. It's a remnant of Cold War thinking," Putin told NBC.

He accused some Western leaders of failing to recognize that Russia's economic growth in recent years had allowed the country to become an independent power.

"By now, there is hardly anything left of the opportunities [that used to be used] to influence Russia," he told Canada's CTV. "And this is why, I think, the constant criticism of problems related to democracy, press freedom, etcetera, are used as an instrument to interfere with Russia's internal and foreign policies and influence them."

Putin specifically attacked foreign officials who attended "The Other Russia" conference, which he said his opponents used to prepare for next year's State Duma elections.

"And if officials from other countries are supporting such initiatives, this means that they are trying to influence the division of political forces in Russia a little bit. They have the right to do that, God help them," Putin told CTV.

Putin said that instead of criticizing, other nations should remember that democratic reform started only recently in Russia and let Russia pursue its own path.

"Russia's economy and political system are in transition. From the tsars, we immediately sank into communism, and a decisive step toward the development of democratic institutions was only made in the early 1990s," he said.

Countering criticism over media freedom and the Kremlin's tight control over national television channels, Putin repeated his earlier comments that the media have never been free in Russia.

"If the freedom of the press is understood as an opportunity for oligarchs ... to buy up the mass media and use it to promote their corporate interests, ... I don't consider it freedom of the press," he told France's TF-1.

Putin offered mild criticism of the U.S. presidential election system -- which he said did not truly reflect the will of the people -- and said the U.S. military bore partial blame in the abduction and execution of four Russian diplomats in Iraq last month.

"If the United States and its allies took upon themselves the responsibility for Iraq when they decided to send armed forces there, then of course they are responsible for the security of the diplomatic corps," he told NBC.

In a rare comment about jailed Yukos founder Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who is serving an eight-year prison term in Siberia after being convicted of fraud and tax evasion, Putin indicated that he has not softened his position.

"There are legal ways to cut the sentence, for amnesties, etcetera. But it has to be done according to the law, and certain preconditions should be created for it," Putin told TF-1 without elaborating.

The Kremlin is widely believed to have orchestrated the legal assault on Khodorkovsky and the effective renationalization of his oil company as punishment for Khodorkovsky's political and business ambitions.