ST. PETERSBURG, Russia — President Vladimir Putin accused the West on Saturday of ignoring Russia's interests in Ukraine, in particular by leaving open the possibility that Ukraine could one day join NATO.
"Where is the guarantee that, after the forceful change of power, Ukraine will not tomorrow end up in NATO?" Putin told senior representatives of major international news agencies, including The Associated Press.
"We hear only one answer, as if on a record: Every nation has a right determine on its own the security system in which it wants to live, and that doesn't concern you," he said.
The meeting came one day before Ukraine holds a presidential election that the West hopes will be a step toward resolving the crisis. Pro-Russia armed separatists in the east of the country, however, have threatened to block the vote, which was called after the Russia-leaning president fled in February following months of street protests.
Russia has serious concerns that the new Western-leaning government in Kiev could take Ukraine into the U.S.-dominated military alliance. When Russia annexed Crimea in March, Putin said the decision was driven in part by the need to prevent NATO ships from ever being based on the Black Sea peninsula.
Putin said that he didn't believe a new Cold War had begun with the United States over Ukraine, but asserted that Russia had no intention of playing second fiddle to the West in global affairs.
"If the main bonus Russia gets is to sit in the room and listen to what other people are saying, then that is not a role Russia can agree to," Putin said. "We always take into account the interests of our partners ... but there are some lines that cannot be crossed, and Ukraine and Crimea were that line."
Putin on Friday had cheered investors at Russia's annual international economic forum by promising to respect the result of Sunday's election and work with Ukraine's new leader.
Following the televised portion of the meeting with the international journalists, Putin proposed over dinner that a mediator be named to find a compromise between the Kiev government and those fighting for independence in the east. Putin suggested that the role be taken by Viktor Medvedchuk, who supported the ousted Ukrainian government and was among those hit by U.S. sanctions over the Russian seizure of Crimea. He would likely be unacceptable to the new Kiev leadership.
Putin was also asked about Prince Charles' reported comment comparing the annexation of Crimea to Adolf Hitler's 1939 invasion of Poland. He said the comparison was "unacceptable" and "not royal behavior."
"I think he understands that himself," Putin said.
Late Saturday, the Kremlin said Putin held a three-way telephone conversation with the leaders of Germany and France in which they all expressed their desire to see a peaceful election in Ukraine.