Putin to challenge US President

President &to=http:// english.pravda.ru/mailbox/22/101/398/14695_putin.html ' target=_blank>Vladimir Putin says he will challenge U.S. President George W. Bush when they next meet over whether Washington is trying to "isolate" Russia.

In an end-of-year news conference on Thursday, the &to=http:// english.pravda.ru/main/ 18/88/351/13074_Ilyumdzhinov.html ' target=_blank>Kremlin leader also implied criticism of Washington's Iraq policy saying he doubted that planned elections there would be democratic while the country was under full occupation.

Putin, who forged a strong personal bond with Bush after throwing his weight quickly behind the war on terror, hailed the U.S. leader as a "decent and consistent" person. He said he saw the United States not only as a partner but an ally of Russia, informs Reuters.

According to the Guardian, with Russia already feeling hemmed in by U.S. bases in formerly Soviet Central Asia and U.S. military trainers in Georgia, Putin has taken issue with Western and particularly U.S. activism in Ukraine, where the presidential election that sparked a monthlong crisis goes into a third round this weekend. His emotions came boiling to the surface during a three-hour Kremlin news conference, during which he took questions from 51 journalists, pausing occasionally to sip tea from a blue-and-white china cup.

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