Russia not to choose confrontation with US: Putin

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Moscow, Feb 14 (UNI) President Vladimir today declared Russia will never engineer confrontation with any country, including US, but it will defend its national interests.

''We will never slide into a confrontation, but we believe it will be right to fight for our interests just as our partners do,'' Putin said at his last annual press conference in the Kremlin before he steps down after the presidential election on March 2.

On Russia's recent military exercise by strategic bombers in the world oceans, the President said the Russian strategic aviation will continue its exercises, adding this did not imply confrontation with the West.

On US deployment of missile shield in Europe, Putin repeated his threat to target missiles if they are based in Poland and the Czech Republic.

''I have the impression that someone is purposefully fanning anti-Russian sentiments in order to create an appropriate moral and political environment for the prospective deployment of missiles,'' he said.

If they incite anti-Russian sentiments in Poland, it will be easier to convince the population that new armament systems are needed to protect the country, he said in the conference which was televised live.

''In fact, the enemy is unknown. They claim it is protection from Iranian missiles, but Iran has no missiles of that kind. Everyone knows that,'' Putin noted.

Putin said earlier this week Russia might target Ukraine if its former Soviet neighbour joined NATO and deployed elements of a US missile defence shield. He has made similar threats about missile shield deployment against Poland and the Czech Republic.

The Russian leader said regardless of who wins the US presidential election, Moscow and Washington will continue to develop a ''positive, at the least, partnership dialogue.'' ''As for how relations between the US and Russia will be built, I have no doubts that whatever they say during the election campaigns, the fundamental interests of Russia and the US will inevitably push the leadership of both countries towards developing a positive and, at least, partnership dialogue,'' he stressed.

UNI XC SLD RN1835

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