Putin: We deserve our place in the G8

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Vladimir Putin has forcefully defended his country's right to be a member of the G8 group of nations - pointing to Russia's growing economic and military muscle.

Moscow's record on human rights, its treatment of Chechnya and a recent clampdown on the activities of human rights groups have prompted some Western politicians to call for Russia, which is chairing the G8 this year for the first time, to be expelled.

But Mr Putin said yesterday that such views belonged to "ill-wishers" living in the last century.

"Nobody wants the G8 to become a gathering of fat cats," he said, saying Russia's membership allowed the G8 better to understand developing countries and poverty.

"I know how G8 leaders feel. Nobody is against Russia joining. Can anyone imagine solving nuclear security problems without the involvement of Russia, the world's biggest nuclear power? Let critics say what they want. ... A dog barks but the caravan passes."

Mr Putin also talked about the recent spy scandal in Moscow, saying relations between Russia and Britain were solid but suggested the British Government had acted like a "puppeteer" in the way it had tried to control and finance Russian human rights groups.