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Russia declares ceasefire
Russian President Vladimir Putin [Images] has accused the Bush administration of orchestrating the recent conflict in the Caucasus region to benefit one of its presidential election candidates, days after Moscow [Images] recognised two breakaway regions of Georgia as independent entities.
Putin did not identify the candidate, but analysts say he was apparently referring to Republican hopeful John McCain [Images] who is considered by Moscow as close to Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili.
"The suspicion would arise that someone in the United States created this conflict on purpose to stir up the situation and to create an advantage for one of the candidates in the competitive race for the presidency. They needed a small victorious war," Putin told CNN.
In a first comprehensive interview with a western television network since Moscow sent troops to fight Georgian forces after they attacked South Ossetia, Putin sought to present the Russian action as a response to the brazen cold war style American encouragement to Georgia.
Putin said his defence officials had told him it was done to influence American voters in the choice of a successor to President Bush, but the network said he presented no evidence to back it up.
"US citizens were indeed in the area in conflict. They were acting in implementing those orders, doing as they were ordered, and the only one who can give such orders is their leader," Putin said.
CNN quoted White House spokeswoman Dana Perino [Images] as saying that Putin's statements were "patently false." "To suggest that the US orchestrated this on behalf of a political candidate just sounds not rational," she said.
When told that many diplomats in the US and Europe blame Russia [Images] for provoking the conflict and for invading Georgia, Putin said Russia had no choice but to invade Georgia after dozens of its peacekeepers in South Ossetia were killed.
"Even during the cold war, during the time of tough confrontation between the Soviet Union and the United States, we have always avoided direct clashes between our civilians, let alone our servicemen," Putin said.
The former president, still considered the most powerful man in the country, said he was disappointed that the US had not done more to stop Georgia's attack.
Putin recalled while attending the Beijing [Images] Olympics [Images] opening ceremony he spoke to US President Bush, who told the Russian prime minister he didn't want war, but Putin spoke of his disappointment that the US administration didn't do more to stop Georgia early in the conflict.
Putin announced economic measures that he said were unrelated to the fighting with Georgia. Nineteen US poultry meat companies would be banned from exporting their products to Russia because they had failed health and safety tests, and 29 other companies had been warned to improve their standards or face the same ban.
Russia's health and agricultural ministries had randomly tested the poultry products and found them to be full of antibiotics and arsenic, he said, stressing that the bans were not related to the Georgian conflict.
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