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Putin: Standoff Over Ukraine Threatens 'Strategic Stability'

FILE - Russia's President Vladimir Putin.

Russian President Vladimir Putin says tensions between Moscow and Washington over the Ukraine crisis threaten "strategic stability," and that his country will not be "blackmailed" by Western sanctions.

Putin's comments, released Wednesday in Moscow, appear in the Serbian daily Politika ahead of a brief Putin visit to Belgrade Thursday. In an extended interview, he equated ongoing Western sanctions against Moscow with "recklessness," and he referred to protests in Kyiv that toppled Ukraine's pro-Russian president early this year as "an anti-constitutional coup d'etat."

The Putin interview comes ahead of pivotal talks between the Russian leader and Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko, set for Friday on the sidelines of an Asia-Europe summit in Milan, Italy.

Poroshenko said late last week the talks likely will include other Western leaders, and said they could lead to the resumption of Russian natural gas deliveries to his energy dependent country.

Ties between Moscow and Washington plummeted earlier this year to a post-Cold War low over Kremlin support for a pro-Russian separatist rebellion in eastern Ukraine and Moscow's annexation of Ukraine's Crimean peninsula. The annexation triggered the first of several rounds of Western economic sanctions targeting key Russian individuals and key components of the Russian economy.

Early Wednesday, Moscow said President Putin discussed options with Poroshenko for a "peaceful settlement" to the crisis. The Kremlin said the phone call also addressed Ukraine's gas crisis.

Moscow halted gas deliveries to its neighbor in June, over what it says are more than $5 billion in unpaid Ukraine energy bills.

East-West tensions were further strained in July by the shootdown in Ukrainian airspace of a Malaysian airliner with 298 people on board. Moscow - accused by Washington of complicity in that attack - has repeatedly denied supplying rebels with the Russian missile battery linked to the shootdown.

In the runup to the Milan summit, Putin early this week ordered more than 17,000 troops to withdraw from an area near the Ukrainian border.

Russia has consistently denied the presence of its troops inside Ukraine, while separatist rebel leaders say they have been helped by Russian soldiers.

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