Putin says US involved in Kadhafi killing

Nov 30, -0001
MOSCOW: Russia's Vladimir Putin implicated Washington on Thursday in the killing of Libyan dictator Moamer Kadhafi and launched a tirade against Senator John McCain in an extraordinary attack on US policies.
The Russian premier used his annual televised phone-in to unleash the type of no-holds-barred attack that characterised his 2000-2008 term as president and threatens to shadow his expected return to the Kremlin in March polls.
Putin turned stone-faced when asked about a tweet from McCain -- one of Washington's fiercest critics of Putin -- warning Russia it faced an "Arab spring" revolt over the disputed December 4 parliamentary elections.
"Mr McCain fought in Vietnam. I think that he has enough blood of peaceful citizens on his hands. It must be impossible for him to live without these disgusting scenes anymore," Putin said in reference to Kadhafi.
"Who did this?" Putin demanded. "Drones, including American ones.
"They attacked his column. Then using the radio -- through the special forces, who should not have been there -- they brought in the so-called opposition and fighters, and killed him without court or investigation."
The Pentagon immediately dismissed the charge as "ludicrous".
"The assertion that US special operations forces were involved in the killing of Colonel Kadhafi is ludicrous," spokesman Captain John Kirby told AFP on the sidelines of US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta's visit to Iraq.
"We did not have American boots on the ground in the Libya operation. All our support was done through the air and on the seas."
Russia had initially allowed NATO's air campaign in Libya to go ahead by abstaining in a UN Security Council vote. But it then vehemently criticised a campaign that Putin at one stage compared to a Western "crusade".
The former KGB agent is widely expected to return to the Kremlin despite a recent dip in public approval and mass street protests -- the first of his rule -- over the outcome of this month's legislative elections.
Putin last week blamed US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of sparking the rallies by questioning the vote's legitimacy and had earlier accused the State Department of trying to destabilise Russia by funding the opposition.
But his response was even more icy when asked about McCain's comments on he his planned return to the presidency and the street protests rocking Moscow.
"I know Mr McCain," said Putin while stressing that he prefer not to refer to him as a "friend".
"This was not addressed in my direction. This was said about Russia. Some people want to move Russia aside somewhere in a corner, so it does not intervene -- so that it does not intervene in the ruling of the world," said Putin.
"They still fear our nuclear capabilities," he said in reference to the West.
"That is why we are such an irritant. We have our own opinion and are conducting our own independent foreign policy ... And it clearly bothers someone."
Putin has spent years carefully crafting a strongman image that combines feats such as hunting and whaling with a Cold War-style foreign policy that recalls Moscow's might and seems to have especially appealed to voters.
That approach worked throughout the past decade and kept his approval at meteoric highs. But his ratings appear to have been hit by the September announcement that he planned to swap jobs with President Dmitry Medvedev next year.
The dip in support suggests that Russians may be tiring of hostilities with the West and Putin stressed that the country was not moving into isolation despite his problems with Washington.
"The West is far from homogeneous. We have more friends than enemies," Putin said. AGENCIES



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