MOSCOW – President Vladimir Putin (search) said Tuesday he could not imagine how Iraqi elections scheduled for Jan. 30 could be held under current conditions.
"Honestly speaking, I cannot imagine how it is possible to organize elections under the conditions of occupation by foreign forces," Putin said in televised comments during a Kremlin meeting with interim Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi (search).
The Bush administration has said it plans to stick to the Jan. 30 date despite the ongoing violence.
Putin's remark follows angry words in the past several days apparently directed at Western countries for their criticism of elections in Ukraine. The victory of a candidate supported by Putin, Viktor Yanukovych (search), was overturned by the Supreme Court amid allegations of fraud, and a revote with opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko (search) was set for Dec. 26.
Many Russian officials and analysts regard U.S. and European criticism not as support for democracy but as an effort to extend Western influence in Ukraine.
Putin also said he expected the interests of Russian companies to be considered in Iraqi reconstruction, given that Russia was willing to join in writing off 80 percent of Iraq's debts to the Paris Club of creditor nations.
Russia, he said, had written off more than other countries, some 90 percent of what was owed "out of feelings of solidarity for our friends the Iraqi people."
Allawi thanked Putin and said that "doubtless, this will help Russia play a leading role in the reconstruction of Iraq's industry and economy."