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U.S. split Ukraine into "pro-Western" and "pro-Russian" - Putin

Russia's president told Time magazine that the United States had divided the Ukrainian people into "pro-Western" and "pro-Russian" sides.
MOSCOW, December 19 (RIA Novosti) - Russia's president told Time magazine that the United States had divided the Ukrainian people into "pro-Western" and "pro-Russian" sides.

Some Russian officials have accused Washington of funding the "orange revolution" in Ukraine in 2004 when the West-leaning government came to power after forcing the Moscow-backed rival to hold new elections. Western countries have in turn accused Russia of trying to retain its Soviet-time influence over the former neighboring republics, including Ukraine.

"For some reason, the U.S. decided that part of the Ukrainian political elite was pro-American and part of it pro-Russian, and chose to support those who in their opinion were pro-American - the so called orange revolutionaries," Vladimir Putin said on December 12 in an interview with the U.S. magazine, which declared him "Person of the Year".

Putin, whose second term expires in May 2008, said this division was a mistake. He said a politician who wants to be popular in his country must defend national interests and be a Ukrainian nationalist in a good sense.

"And they are indeed like that: they are neither pro-Russian, nor pro-American, nor pro-European, they are pro-Ukrainian," said Putin whose popularity rating in Russia still tops 70%.

The Russian leader also accused the U.S. of causing a rift among Ukrainians which led to distrust between some political factions and Ukrainians within the country.

"You began to destroy Ukraine with these actions, demolishing its territorial integrity and undermining its sovereignty," the president said.

Ever since the "orange revolution," Ukraine has been torn apart by a power struggle between the "orange" forces and the opposition. The latest early elections on September 30, have not eased the situation with the "orange" forces forming a coalition of 227 seats in the 450-seat legislature, which is unlikely to make the political process easy.

Putin said when it became evident that the situation in Ukraine was becoming unstable, people tried to force Russia to subsidize the Ukrainian economy, and politicized energy supplies. Russia is Ukraine's only energy supplier. It delivers a mixture of Russian and cheaper Turkmen gas to its neighbor.

"If you want to support somebody, you must pay for it. Nobody wants to do that. I talked to a European economy minister. I told him: 'Why don't you pay then?' And he said: 'I am not stupid.' And I said: 'Do I look like an idiot?'"

Putin said Russia had subsidized the Ukrainian economy with low energy prices for 15 years by around $3-5 billion annually.

Putin denied any ambition to annex Ukraine. He said that out of a population of 45 million in Ukraine, 17 million were ethnic Russians and 80% of those consider Russian their native language, but there is no desire to be part of Russia.

"We do not want to incorporate anyone into Russia because it would be an additional economic burden for us," the president said.

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