MOSCOW – Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Monday harshly criticized the United States for airlifting Georgian troops from Iraq back home.
Putin said the U.S. move would hamper efforts to solve Russia's conflict with Georgia over the breakaway province of South Ossetia.
"It's a pity that some of our partners, instead of helping, are in fact trying to get in the way," Putin said at a Cabinet meeting. "I mean among other things the United States airlifting Georgia's military contingent from Iraq effectively into the conflict zone."
The U.S. military started flying some 2,000 Georgian troops home from Iraq on Sunday after Georgia recalled them. Georgian officials haven't said how many have come back, but a Russian general said eight U.S. military transport planes had already flown home some 800 Georgian troops.
Putin's comments reflected Russia's growing irritation with Western condemnation of Russia's military action against Georgia.
"The scale of their cynicism causes surprise," Putin said. "It's the ability to cast white as black and black as white which is surprising, the ability to cast the aggressor as the victim and blame the victims for the consequences."
Putin remarks also reflected deep anger at Georgia's President Mikhail Saakashvili.
"Of course, Saddam Hussein ought to have been hanged for destroying several Shiite villages," Putin said. "And the incumbent Georgian leaders who razed ten Ossetian villages at once, who ran elderly people and children with tanks, who burned civilian alive in their sheds — these leaders must be taken under protection."
Putin and other Russian officials have accused Georgian forces of committing atrocities against civilians in South Ossetia — claims that could not be independently verified.
Georgia began an offensive to regain control over South Ossetia overnight Friday with heavy rocket and artillery fire and air strikes that ravaged the provincial capital, Tskhinvali.
Russia, which has developed close ties with the region and granted passports to most of its residents, sent in thousands of troops who launched an overwhelming artillery barrage and air attacks against Georgian troops. Heavy Russian shelling drove the Georgian forces out of the South Ossetian provincial capital of Tskhinvali on Sunday.
Saakashvili has proposed a cease-fire, but Russian officials said Georgian forces weren't observing it.