"Democracy cannot be exported to some other place. This must be a product of internal domestic development in a society," Putin said in the interview aired on Sunday night on the CBS' news magazine programme 60 Minutes.

"But if the United States were to leave and abandon Iraq without establishing the grounds for a united country, that would be a second mistake," he said.

Democracy not dying

In the interview, Putin rejected suggestions he was rescinding Russian democracy by measures such as ending the direct election of governors.

He also took at swipe at the US presidential election system, in which voters choose electors who then elect the president.

"In Russia, the president is elected through the direct vote of the whole population. That might be even more democratic," Putin said, and then went on to note the legal disputes over the US presidential vote in 2000.

"You have other problems in your elections. Four years ago your presidential election was decided by the court. But we're not going to poke our noses into your democratic system because that's up to the American people," he said.

The comment reflected Russia's frequent contention that foreign criticism in effect amounts to interference in its internal affairs.

Putin also said that despite differences of views with US President George Bush, he regarded him as a trustworthy politician.

"He is a truly reliable person who does what he says he
will do," Putin said.