Russian President Vladimir Putin lashed out at the United States on Friday, accusing Washington of provoking armed conflicts and undermining global security in a quest to lord its power over the rest of the world.
In a 40-minute speech that mixed harsh criticism with veiled warnings against trying to oust the Russian bear from its role as "master of the taiga," or boreal forest, Putin cast his nation's former Cold War nemesis as an aggressive force responsible for much of the violence racking the world today.
"They are throwing their might to remove the risks they have created themselves, and they are paying an increasing price," Putin said, referring to conflicts in Libya, Syria and Iraq that have flared with new intensity.
At an annual dialogue with Russian scholars known as the Valdai International Discussion Club, Putin told the gathering in the Black Sea resort of Sochi that Washington also provoked the conflict ravaging eastern Ukraine by ignoring Russia's legitimate interests in maintaining historic influence in the former Soviet region.
"Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that the existing system of global and regional security can protect us from disruption. The system is seriously weakened, shattered and deformed," Putin said, according to excerpts of his speech carried by the RIA Novosti news agency.
"The Cold War is over. But it did not end with peace," Putin said, suggesting the United States has abused its power and influence in the world by stirring conflicts that threatened the new world order.
"Ukraine is an example of such conflicts that influence a global balance of forces," Putin said, accusing the United States of instigating a "coup d'etat" that ousted Kremlin-allied Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich in February after three months of protests against his rule.
He said Russia wasn't demanding "some special, exclusive place in the world," only the respect it deserves and due account given to its interests.
But the call for respect was laced with warnings that Russia would neither "bend" under Western sanctions nor be cowed into retreating from its place in the world.
"The bear is the master of the taiga. It is not going to move to another climate," the Kremlin leader vowed. "It's not going to give up its taiga to anyone."
Putin reiterated his oft-stated claim that Russian forces aren't involved in the conflict between separatist gunmen occupying key industrial towns and cities in eastern Ukraine and the Ukrainian troops trying to recover control of the territory. More than 3,700 people have died in the battle zones since the conflict flared in April.
He also continued to insist that the leadership in Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, negotiate a new status with the leaders who have seized much of Donetsk and Luhansk regions, formerly home to nearly 7 million Ukrainian citizens. Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimea peninsula in March, an action that inspired the separatist takeovers elsewhere in Ukraine that the Kremlin casts as unrelated to its Crimean land-grab.
"Statements that Russia is trying to reinstate some sort of empire, that it is encroaching on the sovereignty of neighbors, are groundless," Putin declared, referring to U.S. and European accusations that the Kremlin has sent arms and mercenaries to sow chaos and instability in eastern Ukraine.
Parliamentary elections are set for Ukraine on Sunday, and at least 15% of the former population of 46 million is likely to be deterred from voting by the separatists' refusal to participate in the election on the grounds that their proclaimed "people's republics" are no longer part of Ukraine.