MOSCOW (Reuters) - President Vladimir Putin, in a thinly veiled criticism of the United States, portrayed Russia on Thursday as a force for peace and morality that had no desire to be a global superpower.
"We do not aspire to be called some kind of superpower, understanding that as a claim to world or regional hegemony," Putin said in an annual address to parliamentarians and senior national officials.
"We do not infringe on anyone's interests, we do not force our patronage on anyone, or try to teach anyone how to live," he said, using phrases that echo his previous criticisms of the United States.
Russia, he said, would strive to be a leader which defended international law and respected national sovereignty and the independence of nations.
"This is absolutely understandable for a state like Russia, with its great history and culture," he said.
Russia had a big role in a deal under which Damascus is to scrap its chemical weapons and possible U.S. military strikes were averted. He said Russia had helped "international law, common sense and the logic of peace" prevail.
Without naming the United States, Putin warned that the development of anti-missile shields and powerful long-range non-nuclear weapons could "reduce to nothing" existing nuclear arms control pacts and upset the post-Cold War strategic balance.
"Nobody should have any illusion about the possibility of gaining military superiority over Russia," he said. "We will never allow this to happen. Russia will respond to all these challenges, political and military."
Russia is developing its own effective non-nuclear weapons, he said, adding that in efforts to upgrade its nuclear arsenal "we are reaching new milestones successfully and on schedule. Some of our partners will have to catch up."
Reporting by Alexei Anishchuk,; Writing by Steve Gutterman, Editing by Timothy Heritage