Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested Thursday that the media and political frenzy that surrounded two key events for his energy-rich country was because the United States was seeking to protect its interests in Europe, RIA Novosti reported.

Poland and the Baltic nations, in particular, were up in arms over plans to build a natural-gas pipeline direct across the Baltic Sea from Russia to Germany that will end their roles as transit countries. And much of Europe criticized Russia for energy giant Gazprom's decision to cut gas supplies to Ukraine in January when the neighboring country refused to pay market prices for supplies and then started siphoning off European-bound Russian gas.

"I think, and more to the point I am certain, that all the hysteria that was linked with the supplies of natural gas to Ukraine or the construction of the North European Gas Pipeline was designed to ensure American economic and political interests in Europe," Putin said in an interview with German television.

Gazprom's moves came under a vitriolic attack from U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney in a speech made in Vilnius in May, when he accused Russia of using its energy resources to blackmail and intimidate neighboring countries.

Commenting on Washington support of pro-Western forces in Ukraine, Putin said he doubted it was the right choice.

"The Americans decided to put all their bets on one political force and want to support it by all means, including by [ensuring] cheap energy supplies from Russia," Putin said.

"But if someone wants to support certain forces in a country, he must pay for it," the Russian president said, adding that it was a narrow-minded approach on the part of the Washington administration.

Putin said there were no clearly defined pro-Western or pro-Russian forces in Ukraine because all political forces in the country were primarily pro-Ukrainian.

"In addition, our interests have to be respected there [in Ukraine] because almost 17 million Russians live there and almost every second family in Ukraine has ties with Russia," Putin said. "Close ties in the economy and other ties between Ukraine and Russia have remained since the Soviet era and they are extremely important for us."

"I repeat, if someone wants to support certain forces, please do so, only not at our expense," he said.


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