Putin says world should draw lessons from WWI

Russian President Vladimir Putin (3rd-L) and Russian officials attend a ceremony in Moscow to unveil a monument marking the 100th anniversary of the start of Wolrd War I on August 1, 2014 (AFP Photo/Mikhail Klimentyev) (Ria Novosti/AFP)

Moscow (AFP) - President Vladimir Putin on Friday slammed political ambitions that he said threatened peace in Europe as he paid tribute to Russian soldiers who died during World War I.

In a deeply symbolic speech mixing the past with the present, the Russian leader said the 1914-1918 war should be seen as a cautionary tale.

"It serves as a reminder of what aggression and selfishness, exorbitant ambitions of heads of state and political elites prevailing over common sense can lead to," Putin said as he unveiled a monument to the slain troops.

Those ambitions, he added, put "the world's most trouble-free continent -- Europe" in danger instead of preserving peace.

Putin's televised comments came with Russia and the West locked in a fierce tug-of-war over the fate of ex-Soviet Ukraine, where pro-Kremlin separatists in the east are fighting against Kiev's rule.

The Russian leader, who was flanked by the head of the Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill and top officials, said history proved time and again that an "unwillingness to listen to each other" and respect each others interests can have huge costs.

He said Russia had always sought peace but would repel any outside attack.

"Violence breeds violence," Putin said.

On the eve of World War I, "Russia did its best to persuade Europe to solve the conflict between Serbia and Austria-Hungary peacefully, without blood.

"But Russia was not listened to and it had to respond to the challenge of defending the brotherly Slavic people, defending itself and its citizens from an outside threat."

The bitter showdown between Russia and the West -- which this week imposed a tough new round of sanctions on Moscow -- comes as the world this year marks the centenary of the outbreak of hostilities in World War I.