Putin Calls Cheney's Criticism of Russia 'an Unsuccessful Hunting Shot'

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President Vladimir Putin lashed out at Vice President Dick Cheney ahead of this weekend's G-8 summit, calling his recent criticisms of Russia "an unsuccessful hunting shot," according to a television interview being broadcast Wednesday.

The remark, from an interview with NBC, referred to the shotgun blast by Cheney on a hunting trip that accidentally wounded a companion.

Cheney, in a May speech in the ex-Soviet republic of Lithuania, accused Russia of cracking down on religious and political rights and of using its energy reserves as "tools of intimidation or blackmail."

Asked about Cheney's remarks, Putin said, "I think the statements of your vice president of this sort are the same as an unsuccessful hunting shot. It's pretty much the same."

Both Cheney's criticism and Putin's caustic response underline the tensions that exist between the United States and Russia as both countries prepare for the Group of Eight summit, beginning Saturday in St. Petersburg.

Western leaders are expected to raise concerns at the summit about Russian moves that are seen as antidemocratic, including a new law placing restrictions on non-governmental organizations, tightening state control of news media, and making the upper chamber of parliament an appointed body instead of an elected one.

Russia, in setting the agenda for the G-8 summit, has made energy security one of the top issues. However, Russia this year unsettled Europe when a dispute with Ukraine over natural gas prices resulted in a temporary reduction of Russian natural gas deliveries to Europe. Most of Russia's Europe-bound gas goes through Ukraine.

Despite his sharp comments on Cheney's statement, Putin said Russia welcomed criticism.

"I am glad that we have critics. It would be worse if there were one voice, as it was in the time of the Soviet Union at meetings of the Communist Party. If we hear both critical and positive observations, it means that we have the possibility of better orienting ourselves toward what we're doing," Putin said.