Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said on Friday he believes some nations are using fears that Iran could acquire nuclear weapons as a pretext to seek to change the regime.
In remarks nine days before a presidential election he is almost certain to win, Putin also said Russia's position on Syria in the U.N. Security Council showed that Moscow had no intention of being a yes man for the United States.
I think our position on the Syrian issue in the U.N. Security Council shows that we do not intend to play along with anyone, he said, after being asked at a meeting with Russian security analysts whether it was time for Russia to stop playing along with the Americans on everything.
Russia has joined China in vetoing two draft resolutions that would have condemned President Bashar al-Assad's government over its bloody crackdown on the opposition in Syria, and Putin said his country's stance showed it was an independent actor on the international stage.
Its decision to build Iran's first nuclear power plant - despite years of opposition from Western nations that were concerned the project could help Tehran acquire nuclear weapons - was further proof of its independence, he added.
Despite pressure, we did this, Putin said. And we intend to continue to work just as independently - independently, but not aggressively. And cooperatively with our partners in the international arena.
But he lashed out at Russia's international partners, not for the first time, saying some countries were clearly trying to exploit fears over Iran's nuclear programme to try to change the regime there.
I ... think that under the appearance of a struggle to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons through the addition of another potential member of the nuclear club, Iran, attempts of a different kind are being made and other aims are being set - to change the regime, Putin said.
We do have such suspicions.
Russia has supported four rounds of U.N. Security Council sanctions against Iran over its nuclear programme, which Western nations fear is aimed at developing a bomb. But it has made it clear it opposes further sanctions, even though it says it, too, does not want Iran to develop nuclear weapons.
Putin did not name any specific country he thought was seeking regime change in Iran, but said Russia's position on Iran differed from that of our partners, presumably meaning the United States, Britain and France, which like Russia are permanent U.N. Security Council members with veto power.
Opinion polls indicate Putin, in power as president from 2000-2008 and now as prime minister, will easily win a March 4 presidential election.
He has frequently resorted to anti-Western rhetoric in the campaign, accusing the United States of encouraging the biggest opposition protests of his 12-year rule and criticising NATO for helping Libyan rebels oust Muammar Gaddafi last year.
Russia has said it will not allow a repeat of the Libyan scenario in Syria, by far its strongest foothold in the Middle East. It has continued sending weapons to Assad's government and has said his resignation must not be a precondition for talks on Syria's future.
(Reporting by Darya Korsunskaya; Writing by Steve Gutterman; Editing by Alissa de Carbonnel and Andrew Osborn)