I'm the world's only true democrat, says Putin

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has described himself as the world’s only “pure” democrat and attacked the United States and Europe, which have criticized him, for falling short of their own ideals.

In an interview with Western media released on Monday, he rejected Western criticism that he has centralized power in the Kremlin, marginalized the opposition and increased state control over the media.

Asked whether he agreed with former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s description of him as an “impeccable democrat”, Putin replied laughing:

“Of course I am an absolute, pure democrat. But you know the problem? It’s not even a problem, it’s a real tragedy. The thing is that I am the only one, there just aren’t any others in the world.”

Putin said the West’s record on democracy was less than perfect.

“Let’s look what happens in North America -- sheer horror: torture, the homeless, Guantanamo, keeping people in custody without trial or investigation,” Putin said in the interview ahead of this week’s summit of the Group of Eight (G-8) industrial nations.

“Look what’s going on in Europe: the harsh treatment of demonstrators, the use of rubber bullets, tear gas in one capital or another, the killing of demonstrators in the streets.”

He also attacked post-Soviet Ukraine for “completely violating the constitution and all its laws” and heading for “complete tyranny” -- an apparent reference to the political deadlock between rival factions over the calling of fresh elections.

“After the death of Mahatma Gandhi there’s nobody to talk to,” he concluded, referring to the Indian leader who championed civil rights and non-violent resistance to tyranny.

Asked whether there was any move in Russia towards a return to totalitarian rule, Putin simply said: “That is complete rubbish, don’t believe that.”