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Putin criticizes European 'double standards'

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  • Putin does not support Kosovo breaking free from Serbia
  • He said his time in office was a "gift from the Russian people and from God"
  • Putin answers Hillary Clinton criticism with "head not soul" jibe
  • Europe's top election watchdog says it will not monitor Russian elections
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MOSCOW (CNN) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin offered biting criticism Thursday of what he called European "double standards" and stood by his country's long-standing objection to Kosovo's plan to declare independence.

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Putin is widely expected to become prime minister once his presidential term ends.

Putin addressed a myriad of reporters' questions -- 100 in all -- at the annual presidential news conference, his final one before his term ends.

If his self-appointed successor Dmitry Medvedev wins the March 2 presidential vote -- which is widely expected -- Putin has been tapped to become the country's next prime minister.

He described his two terms as president as "gifts from the Russian people and from God" and said he would stand by the country's basic law "that this term is the final term."

"At this juncture, I don't have to cry or end my career, but I have to rejoice that I have an opportunity to work elsewhere and serve my country elsewhere," he said.

Putin used his last news conference -- with more than 1,300 journalists and lasting almost five hours -- to highlight differences between Russia and the West. Video Watch what Putin had to say at his final presidential news conference. »

He questioned why Kosovo should receive the West's backing for independence when other separatist groups -- including the Basques in Spain -- and breakaway republics -- including the Turkish republic of Northern Cyprus -- have no support.

"Are you not ashamed, you Europeans, treating the same problems with double standards in different regions of the world?" Putin asked.

At the request of Serbia -- a close ally of Russia -- the United Nations Security Council held a private debate on the matter on Thursday. European Union officials expect Kosovo to declare its independence on Sunday, according to a report from Novosti, the Russian News and Information Agency.

"I would like to underline the fact that we think that support of unilateral announcement of Kosovo is not moral or legal," Putin said.

Both the EU and the United States fully back independence for Kosovo, a province of Serbia that has been under U.N. control since shortly after NATO warplanes forced out Serbian forces in 1999.

NATO acted after Serbian forces repressed an uprising of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo with a brutal campaign that spawned reports of ethnic cleansing and sparked an exodus of tens of thousands of refugees.

Last week, Europe's top election watchdog -- the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) -- announced it would not monitor next month's election as planned because Moscow had imposed severe restrictions.

But Putin ridiculed the organization's name and said perhaps it should concentrate on "teaching their wives to make borscht" rather than teaching countries how to run their elections.

"I don't think that anyone is tempted to present ultimatums to Russia especially such organizations with abbreviations sounding like, 'Oh dear,'" he said.

He said Russia has "fully implemented" all of its commitments with its European partners, including the OSCE.

The OSCE said the limitations included Moscow's refusal to allow monitors to arrive two weeks before the election, which the OSCE said was necessary to monitor the campaigning.

The group said Russia had refused to allow an OSCE group to visit in December to plan its election mission.

But Russian leaders expressed surprise that the OSCE called off its mission simply because Russia refused to agree to the group's terms, calling it an "ultimatum."

"We will not let anyone force anything upon us," Putin said. "This is the basic principle of international law."

At one point, the focus of the news conference shifted to the U.S. presidential election when a Russian reporter asked Putin to respond to a remark by Hillary Clinton questioning whether the Russian leader, as a former KGB officer, has a soul.

"The minimum a statesperson should have is a head," he said. His remark was met with laughter. "To build on interstate relations it is necessary to be guided by the fundamental interest of your own country, not by emotions. "

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Putin restated his criticism of the U.S. plan to deploy parts of a missile defense shield in Poland and the Czech Republic, and threatened to "re-target some of our systems to those targets."

Putin also threatened to point Russian missiles at "targets that will threaten our security" if Ukraine joins NATO. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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