MOSCOW (Reuters) - Former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev criticized the United States, and current President George W. Bush in particular, on Friday for sowing disorder across the world by seeking to build an empire.
Gorbachev, who presided over the break-up of the Soviet Union, said Washington had sought to build an empire after the Cold War ended but had failed to understand the changing world.
"The Americans then gave birth to the idea of a new empire, world leadership by a single power, and what followed?" Gorbachev asked reporters at a news conference in Moscow.
"What has followed are unilateral actions, what has followed are wars, what has followed is ignoring the U.N. Security Council, ignoring international law and ignoring the will of the people, even the American people."
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Bush say they are friends but ties have been strained by U.S. plans for a missile defense shield in Europe, disagreements over Kosovo and the war in Iraq, and competition for allies in the former Soviet Union.
Many Russians view the United States as a rival and enemy.
Gorbachev, 76, who left politics after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, is deeply unpopular in Russia. Though feted abroad, he is blamed in Russia for sinking the Soviet empire and plunging millions into poverty.
"When I look at today's world I have a worrying feeling about the growth of world disorder," he said.
"I don't think the current president of the United States and his administration will be able to change the situation as it is developing now -- it is very dangerous," he said.
Gorbachev said Russia's hopes of building stronger ties with Washington had waned in the face of a series of U.S. administrations interested in building an empire.
"It is a massive strategic mistake: no single centre can command the entire world, no one," he said. "Current America has made so many mistakes."
He said the U.S. administration was apparently unable to adapt to a swiftly changing world and had ignored -- or was unable to see -- the rise of Brazil, Russia, India and China as economic heavyweights.
Treaties limiting the number of nuclear weapons should be observed, he said, adding that officials in Washington should be wary of sparking a new arms race.
Gorbachev, who became Soviet leader in 1985, battled against the conservative wing of the Communist Party to push through reforms that dismantled the one-party system, freed the press and ended restrictions on religion.
The father of "glasnost" (openness) said he supported Putin's policies but that the pro-Kremlin United Russia party had eroded democratic rights.
He said Putin's "seriousness" as a leader would be assured if he left office according to the constitution. Putin says he will leave office in 2008 after two terms in office.