Russian PM derides Georgian leader Saakashvili
Yalta: Vladimir Putin on Friday delivered one of his most searing attacks yet against the Georgian leader Mikheil Saakashvili, saying it may not be safe to wear ties around him.
Asked at a news conference to comment on Saakashvili's current visit to Kiev, the Russian strongman premier known for his bad boy image and sharp tongue said the Georgian leader and his host, Ukraine's fiercely pro-Western president Viktor Yushchenko, should meet without ties.
"The two Presidents would be better off holding a dinner -- if they are to hold it -- without ties. Ties are pricey these days... Well, you understand what I mean," he said, eliciting laughter from officials and journalists.
"Yushchenko's guest will scarf up his tie."
Putin alluded to the widely-circulated footage in which Saakashvili put a tip of his tie into his mouth and chewed on it as he waited to be interviewed last year.
In 2008, Russia and Georgia went to war over the breakaway region of South Ossetia.
Putin's host, Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who is Yushchenko's arch foe, sought to play along, quipping: "I would definitely (do it) without ties."
Putin said Yushchenko and Saakashvili would have much to talk about.
"The fighters reminisced about past days and battles that they have lost together," Putin mused.
Putin was in Yalta for talks with Tymoshenko over boosting cooperation in economy. He announced earlier in the day Russia would allow Ukraine to buy less gas next year, staving off the threat of multibillion-dollar fines.
The meeting was a chance for Putin and Tymoshenko to flaunt their strong relations in the run-up to the Presidential Elections in which both Tymoshenko and Yushchenko would run.
Neither Putin nor Tymoshenko made any mention of the January 17 election but the Russian prime minister said he felt comfortable working with his Ukrainian counterpart.
"It's comfortable for us to work with the Tymoshenko government," he said. "During the time of our cooperation relations between Russia and Ukraine have become more stable and strengthened."
Tymoshenko agreed, saying Russia and Ukraine have begun to build ties for years to come.
"That is what our peoples want I believe: calm, worthy, pragmatic and equal cooperation... This is true freedom and true partnership."
Putin's protégé, President Dmitry Medvedev, in August swore off doing business with Yushchenko, accusing him of pursuing "anti-Russian" policies.
Yushchenko on Thursday sent a letter to Medvedev saying current gas contracts between Moscow and Kiev had to be revised.