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Last Updated: Monday, 18 October, 2004, 14:45 GMT 15:45 UK
Putin's Iraq comments back Bush
By Jonathan Marcus
BBC diplomatic correspondent

Russian President Vladimir Putin
Putin sees the "war on terror" in similar terms to Bush
Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that attacks on US forces in Iraq are intended to cause maximum damage to President George W Bush.

He said groups of "international terrorists" in Iraq were aiming to prevent Mr Bush's re-election.

If they succeeded they would celebrate victory over the US, he went on.

Mr Putin said Russia would respect the choice of the US people, but his remarks will be interpreted as a signal that he would prefer a Bush victory.

How different would a Kerry administration's policy be towards Moscow? Mr Putin doesn't appear eager to find out

Mr Putin and Mr Bush tend to see the so-called war on terror in similarly stark terms.

The Bush administration's criticism of the Russian military's behaviour in Chechnya, for example, has been more restrained since Russia became a key partner in the coalition against terror.

'Worst instincts'

But the Russian president has also probably been angered by criticism of Russia that has come from influential figures close to Mr Bush's rival, Democratic Senator John Kerry.

Last month, a group of more than 100 US and European foreign policy experts signed a letter to Western leaders that accused President Putin of undermining democracy in Russia and turning the country back towards authoritarian rule.

Senator Joseph Biden - one of the Democrats' principal foreign policy experts - was among those who signed.

And earlier this month, Richard Holbrooke, widely tipped as a possible Secretary of State if Mr Kerry wins the presidential race, wrote in the Financial Times newspaper of Mr Bush's "tepid reaction to the disturbing trends under Mr Putin's leadership" which, he said, "had reinforced the Russian president's worst instincts".

But if elected, how different would a Kerry administration's policy really be towards Moscow? It is hard to say. But Mr Putin, for one, does not appear eager to find out.

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