President Vladimir Putin (search) on Thursday accused the West, and the United States in particular, of trying to isolate Russia and even split it by interfering in Moscow's relations with its former Soviet neighbors.
Responding to a reporter's request for his reaction to a statement allegedly made by Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski (search) to the effect that "Russia without Ukraine is better than Russia with Ukraine," Putin said angrily that the Polish leader sounded "like someone trying to find a new job" when his term runs out.
The comment echoed Kremlin-connected analysts' theories that Poland, which has played an active role in defusing the Ukraine (search) election crisis, was actually working as a proxy for the United States, which is allegedly trying to deepen its influence in Europe and push Poland to the top ranks of the European Union.
Putin said Russia did not intend to annex any state and did not try to prevent former Soviet republics from becoming independent states.
"If we interpret this (statement by Kwasniewski) as striving to limit Russia's ability to develop relations with its neighbors, then it means a desire to isolate the Russian Federation," Putin said.
"I don't think that is the goal of U.S. policy," he said, adding however that he would pose the question to U.S. President George W. Bush when they meet in Slovakia in February.
"If it's indeed so, then the position on Chechnya is becoming more understandable. That means that there, as well, a policy aimed at creating elements that would destabilize the Russian Federation is being conducted," Putin said.
Russia has bristled at Western encouragement of negotiations with Chechen representatives, accusing Western countries of abetting terrorists, and firmly turned down any talks.
Putin said that his personal relationship with Bush remained strong, but he bristled at U.S. criticism of the Kremlin's political restructuring proposals, which include an end to direct elections for governor.