DUSHANBE, Tajikistan – Russian President Vladimir Putin (search) said Monday that terrorists are aiming to derail U.S. President George W. Bush's chances at re-election through their attacks in Iraq.
"I consider the activities of terrorists in Iraq are not as much aimed at coalition forces but more personally against President Bush," Putin said at a news conference after a regional summit in the Tajik capital, Dushanbe.
"International terrorism has as its goal to prevent the election of President Bush to a second term," he said. "If they achieve that goal, then that will give international terrorism a new impulse and extra power."
Still, Putin didn't say which candidate he favored in the Nov. 2 U.S. presidential election.
"We unconditionally respect any choice of the American people," he said. "I don't want to spoil relations with either candidate."
Putin also noted his continuing disagreement with Bush on Washington's invasion of Iraq, which Russia strongly opposed as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council.
"Russia was always against the military operations in Iraq," he said.
Despite their differences, Bush and Putin have cooperated closely in the international war on terror, with Russia assenting to the deployment of U.S. forces in former Soviet Central Asia for operations in neighboring Afghanistan. In exchange, Washington has mostly looked the other way on Moscow's continuing war in breakaway Chechnya, which Russia alleges is being fueled by international terror groups.
On his last visit to Central Asia in June, Putin appeared to be backing Bush's assertion that Iraq was a threat, saying at a summit in Kazakhstan that Russia had notified Washington about intelligence that Saddam Hussein's regime was preparing attacks in the United States and its interests abroad.
No further details were given, and Putin also said then that the warning didn't change Moscow's opposition to the Iraq war.