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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putin Defends Tests as Response in 'Arms Race'

Itar-TassPapoulias, foreground left, and Luzhkov attending the unveiling of a statue of Greek monks at the Epiphany Monastery.
President Vladimir Putin on Thursday said the country's recent tests of new missiles were aimed at maintaining "global peace," defending them as an appropriate response to an increasing U.S. military presence in Europe.

In the latest sign of cooling relations with the United States, Putin suggested that Washington's actions were provoking an arms race.

"Bear in mind, it wasn't us who initiated the new round," Putin said, adding quietly, "of the arms race."

Putin was speaking at a joint news conference after a meeting with Greek President Karolos Papoulias, who is in town on a four-day visit.

"There is no need to be afraid of Russia's actions," Putin said of the Russian missile tests conducted Tuesday.

"This is extremely important for maintaining global peace," he said in response to a Greek reporter's questions about the strained state of Russian-U.S. relations. In a clear reference to the United States, Putin also criticized behavior characterized by "imperialism and dictate" in a repeat of statements he made in recent months.

"He understands that the conventional arms balance in Europe has been broken," said Dmitry Orlov, general director of the Agency for Political and Economic Communications.

The harsh remarks stood in stark contrast to the praise Putin heaped on Greece, which in March signed a deal for the long-awaited, $1.35 billion Burgas-Alexandroupolis pipeline with Russia and Bulgaria.

Papoulias and Putin both praised deepening energy cooperation as a further step toward energy diversification in Europe.

"I believe we are witnessing the best of times in our relations," Papoulias said.

Russia and Greece are also expected to extend a contract for the supply of Russian natural gas to Greece, The Associated Press reported earlier this week from Athens. At a meeting with Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov later Thursday, Papoulias said that he and Putin had discussed the possibility of building a gas pipeline running parallel to the Burgas-Alexandroupolis pipeline, Interfax reported.

Following nearly two hours of talks between the presidents, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his Greek counterpart, Theodora Bakoyannis, signed a bilateral cooperation agreement, to run through 2009.

One part of the agreement is likely to cover cooperation in the military sphere, as Russia has sold weapons, including warships, to NATO member Greece in the past and is clearly interested in more business.

A reporter from the newspaper Eleftheros Tipos who was accompanying the Greek presidential delegation said Mikhail Dmitriyev, the head of the Federal Service for Military and Technical Cooperation, had met with his Greek counterpart in Moscow the day before the delegation arrived Wednesday, and Lavrov confirmed on Thursday that there had been discussions of further arms sales, without elaborating.

"When there's a communique being signed," Lavrov said, "its probably unlikely that it's just going to be blank."

A spokeswoman for the service declined comment Thursday.

Following a largely unproductive Russia-EU summit near Samara last month, Papoulias' comments that the European Union should do more to engage Russia might have come as music to Putin's ears.

"A democratic, solid and strong Russia, whose people live well, is not positive only for Russia," Papoulias said.

He also presented Putin with a book by Lindsey Hughes, titled "Russia in the Age of Peter the Great," for which Papoulias wrote a preface stressing Russia's important place in European and global affairs.

Earlier Thursday, Papoulias spoke at a Russian-Greek business forum and got together with Mayor Yury Luzhkov to unveil a statue of two Greek monks who were summoned to Russia in the 17th century to open the country's first institution of higher learning.

Papoulias, who met with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II on Wednesday, was to travel to St. Petersburg on Friday to visit St. Petersburg State University and Peterhof.