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Putin criticises U.S. over South Ossetia

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin criticised the United States on Monday, saying it had displayed a cynical Cold War mentality by supporting Georgia in the conflict over South Ossetia.

Putin, shown on state television speaking to officials, said the West had manipulated the truth about the war to present the Georgians as the victims rather than the aggressors.

Washington was hampering Moscow’s efforts to find a way out of the conflict, he said.

“It is a shame that some of our partners are not helping us but, essentially, are hindering us,” Putin said.

“The very scale of this cynicism is astonishing -- the attempt to turn white into black, black into white and to adeptly portray victims of aggression as aggressors and place the responsibility for the consequences of the aggression on the victims.”

Putin said he was dismayed that the United States had used its military planes to transport Georgian troops home from Iraq.

A Georgian official said almost all of Georgia’s 2,000-strong troop contingent in Iraq had returned although the United States has not confirmed that its planes flew them home.

“Almost all of them have been sent to the area close to the conflict zone,” Nika Rurua of the Georgian parliament’s defence committee told Reuters.

The fighting between Russia and its small, former Soviet neighbour broke out last Thursday when Georgia sent forces to retake South Ossetia, a pro-Russian province that threw off Georgian rule in the 1990s.

Moscow responded with a counter-attack by its vastly bigger forces that drove Georgian troops out of the devastated South Ossetian capital Tskhinvali on Sunday.

Putin, an opponent of the U.S.-led war in Iraq, repeated complaints from Moscow about what it says are double standards in the West over the conflict with Georgia, which wants to become a member of NATO.

He mocked the support given by the West to Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, comparing him to former Iraqi leader Sadam Hussein, who was hanged in 2006 for war crimes.

“They of course had to hang Saddam Hussein for destroying several Shiite villages,” Putin said.

“But the current Georgian rulers who in one hour simply wiped 10 Ossetian villages from the face of the earth, the Georgian rulers which used tanks to run over children and the elderly, which threw civilians into cellars and burnt them -- they (Georgian leaders) are players that have to be protected.”

Putin’s accusations about the actions of Georgian troops have not been independently confirmed.

Georgia’s Saakashvili says Russia is trying to topple his government and using the tactics of the Cold War to bring his small country to heel.

“The Cold War has long ended but the mentality of the cold war has stayed firmly in the minds of several U.S. diplomats. It is a real shame,” Putin said.

Editing by Ron Popeski and Angus MacSwan