In a speech on Saturday, Russian President Vladimir Putin blamed US policy for inciting other countries to seek nuclear weapons to defend themselves from an "almost uncontained use of military force" -- a stinging attack that underscored growing tensions between Washington and Moscow.
"Unilateral, illegitimate actions have not solved a single problem, they have become a hotbed of further conflicts," Putin said at a security forum attracting senior officials from around the world. "One state, the United States, has overstepped its national borders in every way."
In what his spokesman acknowledged was Putin's harshest criticism of the US, the Russian leader attacked US President George W. Bush's administration for stoking a new arms race by planning to deploy a missile defense system in eastern Europe and for backing a UN plan that would grant virtual independence to Serbia's breakaway province of Kosovo.
The Bush administration said it was surprised and disappointed by Putin's remarks.
"His accusations are wrong," said Gordon Johndroe, Bush's national security spokesman.
"We are surprised and disappointed with President Putin's comments," Johndroe added. "We expect to continue cooperation with Russia in areas important to the international community such as counterterrorism and reducing the spread and threat of weapons of mass destruction."
US presidential hopeful Senator John McCain, who was also attending the conference, described Putin's remarks as "the most aggressive speech from a Russian leader since the end of the Cold War."
The US and an increasingly assertive Russia have repeatedly butted heads during the past year, with US Vice President Dick Cheney accusing Moscow of using its energy resources as "tools of intimidation or blackmail."
Washington has also been angered by Russia's reluctance to impose meaningful sanctions against Iran, which is accused of seeking to develop nuclear weapons under the cover of a civilian atomic energy program.
But Putin said it was "the almost uncontained hyper use of force in international relations" that was forcing countries opposed to Washington to seek to build up nuclear arsenals.
"It is a world of one master, one sovereign ... it has nothing to do with democracy," he said. "This is nourishing the wish of countries to get nuclear weapons."
"This is very dangerous, nobody feels secure anymore because nobody can hide behind international law," Putin told the gathering.
Putin did not mention the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan. But he voiced concern about NATO's expansion plans as possible challenges to Russia.
"The process of NATO expansion has nothing to do with modernization of the alliance or with ensuring security in Europe," Putin said.
"On the contrary, it is a serious factor provoking reduction of mutual trust," he said.
On the missile defense system, Putin said: "I don't want to accuse anyone of being aggressive" but suggested it would seriously change the balance of power and could provoke an unspecified "asymmetric" response.
also see story:
Albanians protest UN Kosovo plan