Russian President Vladimir Putin says Russia may shift its position on how to deal with Iraq if the United Nations arms inspectors encounter new difficulties in their work. Mr. Putin spoke during a visit to neighboring Ukraine.

President Putin says that so far, Iraq has cooperated with the U.N. inspection teams searching for alleged weapons of mass destruction.

But the Russian leader warned that any change in this could lead Russia to back a new, tougher U.N. Security Council resolution on the Iraq issue.

This appeared to signal a shift in Russian policy toward Iraq, after months of relatively supportive statements.

In comments made to a group of Ukrainian university students in the capital, Kiev, Mr. Putin also seemed to send a message to the United States and Britain about the danger of their possibly "going it alone" to attack Iraq without U.N. approval.

Mr. Putin said the most important issue is that any action must be made with the approval of the United Nations Security Council. He said that is even more important than the questions over Iraq's weapons program. The Russian leader said all disputes must be resolved on the basis of international law and U.N. resolutions.

Mr. Putin also said the inspectors need more time in order to complete their work.

His comments come one day after chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix criticized Iraq for not providing enough evidence that it is no longer pursuing programs to develop weapons of mass destruction.

On Tuesday, Russia's Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov also urged Iraq to cooperate with the inspectors in what he called "a most serious way." Mr. Ivanov criticized Baghdad's statement that neighboring Kuwait might get dragged into a war, if one comes. He said such comments are not helpful as attempts to find a diplomatic solution to the Iraqi crisis continue.