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Putin criticizes US but offers to cooperate on global crises

By NATALIYA VASILYEVA and VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV
Associated Press

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (AP) - Russia isn't seeking dominance or superpower status, but wants its interests to be respected by the United States and its Western allies, President Vladimir Putin said Friday as he sought to assuage investors spooked by Russia's recession and a showdown over Ukraine.

While Putin repeated a litany of accusations against the U.S., he also seemed to send conciliatory signals by calling for stronger international efforts to fight the Islamic State extremist group, stem the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, combat epidemics and respond to other global challenges.

Speaking at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, Putin insisted that Russia wants February's Ukraine peace agreement to succeed, saying that fighting will stop once Ukraine provides broader rights to the rebel regions, amnesties the rebels and calls local elections there.

Ukraine and the West have accused Russia of breaking the peace deal by continuing to support the rebels with troops and weapons. Moscow denies this.

Commenting on the accusations, Putin said the rebels are defending themselves against the Ukrainian military. He added that "once an attempt is made to solve the problem by political means, those weapons will be gone."

He reaffirmed his long-held claim that Russians and Ukrainians are one people who will have a common future despite the current crisis, while adding that Ukraine has the sovereign right to choose its own path.

Commenting on the U.S. and EU sanctions over Ukraine, which helped push Russia's economy into recession this year, Putin said the West hurt itself with them. He argued that the Russian economy is on the path to recovery, its consumer market seeing a revival.

Putin blamed the U.S. and the European Union for triggering the Ukrainian crisis by refusing to take into account what he described as Russia's legitimate interests.

"They have pushed us back to the line beyond which we can't retreat," he said. "Russia isn't seeking hegemony or some ephemeral superpower status."

But while raising a number of old grievances, Putin said that Russia wants to cooperate with the West in tackling global threats and challenges.

He gave the Islamic State as an example, saying it is "absolute evil" requiring stronger joint efforts to combat it.

Putin also said that Russia wants a deal ending the standoff over the Iranian nuclear program to be signed as planned before the end of the month, but cautioned against putting "unfulfillable" demands to Tehran.

And he also voiced readiness to encourage Syrian President Bashar Assad to discuss the peaceful transition of power. He explained Moscow's backing for the Syrian ruler by the need to prevent the victory of radical forces that would lead to a reign of terror.

"We are ready to work with the president to ensure political transformation, so that all Syrians have access to instruments of power," he said.

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Isachenkov reported from Moscow.

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