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Vladimir Putin boasted Monday about how he disguised himself as a taxi driver to escape a bleak economic crisis back in the Soviet era, calling it “my best story.”
The Russian president also struck a defiant tone against his fellow leaders, saying the stage is set for a “diplomatic crisis” between the U.S. and Russia.
Putin, who made the comments at the high-profile 67th session of the United Nations General Assembly, said it was a good time to observe the conclusion of the Yalta summit of World War II victors, held in the Crimean resort town in 1945.
“It was the end of the Cold War. It was at the time of historic changes, with developments in other regions, with new circumstances,” Putin said, according to Reuters.
“I recall that I often went out for a taxi one evening and told the driver that I was my father’s son. Thus, my father stopped working as a taxi driver in Leningrad to give his son the chance to go to school. I realized I could not live any longer as a taxi driver.”
Putin’s latest outburst comes against the backdrop of efforts by the United States and the European Union to impose new sanctions on Russia as punishment for its alleged meddling in the 2016 U.S. election and its intervention in the war in Syria.
The Russian leader also criticized his U.S. counterpart, Donald Trump, for threatening a “diplomatic crisis” if the American president doesn’t get his way with Europe.
“Only our Russian friends get obsessed,” Putin said of Trump’s rhetoric during the General Assembly, adding the U.S. president had allowed his advisers to “exploit him.”
“They scare Europe. They scare the other countries. They frighten everyone. They are the ones who caused all this. They should do something about it.”
Last week, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders lambasted EU officials for trying to block Trump’s effort to bring NATO forces closer to the Russian border, saying the U.S. is in “a very unique spot” in the world in that it doesn’t have a strong back-up in the event of a conflict.
“The strength and power of the United States is its ability to rally people behind our interests and protect them,” Sanders said.
“We don’t want war, but we do want to defend ourselves.”
Trump and other top U.S. officials have said they hope an investment by NATO members to shore up their military budgets could lead to an end to the alliance’s defense spending crunch, according to Fox News.
Also on Monday, Putin denied any collusion with Russia by Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign, a charge the president has repeatedly denied and has vowed not to drop, according to Reuters.
Fox News contributor and pollster Frank Luntz said Putin was “playing his trump card” by laying out his economic failures.
“A third of the population has to be fed up with you,” Luntz told Putin at the beginning of their interview, according to Reuters.
“And for those who are with you, the last election didn’t work,” he added.
Putin denied the collusion accusations and told Luntz, “I came here to tell you that you are quite right.”