Putin gave a five hour press conference, his final one as Russian president. Putin will reportedly take over as Prime Minister when his hand-picked successor, Dmitri Medvedev, becomes President next month.

Putin’s state of mind seems, how shall I say, angry? Yes. Irritable. Bellicose. Perhaps a little psychopathic even. Putin makes a rival worthy of the insane Bush/Cheney tag-team. Look at this guy. Cheney’s got nothing on him. Putin can bore a hole through a human skull with that stare.

Vladimir Putin has delivered perhaps his most menacing tirade against the West yet, repeating threats to train nuclear missiles on Europe and warning of unspecified retaliation if Kosovo declared independence.

Addressing his last press conference as Russian president, Mr Putin mounted a defiant display that demonstrated more emphatically than ever the widening gulf between Moscow and its former Cold War rivals.

In a vintage performance, the former KGB spy laced almost five hours of invective with crude insults, threats and admonitions often expressed in the argot of the Russian street.

Reserving his greatest ire for the United States, which he accused of harbouring a colonial mentality towards Russia, Mr Putin again said that Europe would pay the consequences for a Washington-backed plan to erect a missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic.

“Our generals, our security council, consider these moves a threat to our national security,” he said. “We asked our partners to stop but no one listened to us. So if they continue we will have to react appropriately by retargeting our missiles.” Mr Putin also made similar threats against Ukraine if it joined Nato.

The Russian leader - often accused of returning his country to a state of autocracy - portrayed his nuclear threat as an act of democratic generosity, saying he was acting in the interests of Europeans who opposed American military expansionism.

Few western countries escaped the vitriol. Europe was scolded for its “silly”, “immoral” and “illegal” backing of Kosovo’s imminent unilateral declaration of independence from Serbia.

Although he did not elaborate, Mr Putin gave warning of retaliation once Kosovo broke away - a threat likely to chill Western leaders. “We have a ready-made plan and we know what we are going to do,” he said.

Eesh. And in a manner eerily reminiscent of our own sycophantic press, fawning journalists blew kisses and waved hankies at the manly Russian President.

Indeed, this was Mr Putin at his most combative. To the delight of fawning Russian journalists, he confirmed his intention to re-emerge as a powerful prime minister in a Medvedev administration - and pointedly told reporters that he had no intention of hanging his successor’s portrait on his office wall.

Encouraged by enthusiastic applause from his audience, Mr Putin often resorted to crude rhetoric to condemn his critics.

…Critics have accused Mr Putin of creating a personality cult during his years in power - an allegation that may have been borne out by the sycophantic and even simpering questions put to him by local reporters.

A Chechen journalist asked the president when he would grace the ravaged province with another visit, while a female reporter presented the president with a golden heart as a gift for Valentine’s Day.

And for a final forehead-slapping moment of bitter deja vu, check this out:

Asked what had made him such a great leader, Mr Putin suggested that he had been anointed by God to make Russia a great state and boasted that he had made no mistakes during his eight years in power.

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