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Putin Blames Washington for New 'Arms Race'

Russian President Vladimir Putin has condemned Thursday what he called U.S. "imperialism" in world affairs. The comments came during an increasingly tense period in U.S.-Russian relations. Bill Gasperini has more for VOA from Moscow.

Speaking to reporters in the Russian capital, President Putin said U.S. plans to place missile defense systems in Europe were starting a new "arms race."

His remarks coincided with a Russian test of a new, multi-warhead intercontinental missile that the Russian military says is capable of penetrating any anti-missile system.

Mr. Putin said the tests of the new missiles were a response to U.S. steps that have upset the strategic balance in the world.

Mr. Putin says "some members of the international community are nursing a desire to dictate their will to all and everyone on any issue, without coordinating their actions with common norms of international law."

Mr. Putin's statements were some of the strongest yet by the Russian president on the U.S. plans to deploy an anti-missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Washington insists the shield will be defensive in character, but the Kremlin considers the plan a threat to Russia's security.

In a speech earlier this week, President Putin said the anti-missile plan could turn the European continent into a "powder keg."

Speaking in Germany on Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice dismissed the idea that the U.S. missile shield is a threat to Russia.

"And so I would hope that rather than continuing to worry about something that seems to us in fact just not at all possible, which is that, given the size of the Russian nuclear deterrent, that somehow this system is going to threaten the Russian nuclear deterrent," said Condoleezza Rice. "I would note that President Putin said just yesterday [Tuesday] that Russia's ballistic missiles can overwhelm, penetrate, destroy any shield that we might build. We quite agree."

The escalation in rhetoric comes days before President Putin is due to meet President Bush at the annual G-8 summit of leading industrialized nations in Germany. The White House has announced that the two presidents will hold a special summit in the United States in early July.

The missile debate is just one issue in an increasingly tense relationship between the former adversaries.

The U.S. and Russia disagree over how to deal with Iran's nuclear program and the state of democratic reforms and human rights in Russia.

In remarks Thursday, White House spokesman Tony Snow took a more positive view of the U.S.-Russian relationship and dismissed the possibility that the U.S. missile plan will revive the cold war.