After midnight in the library, Putin sets out his world view
* Putin meets journalists after economic conference
* Blames West over Ukraine, says economy holding up
* Popularity is high despite economic problems
By Paul Ingrassia
ST PETERSBURG, Russia, June 20 (Reuters) - It was two minutes before midnight when Russian President Vladimir Putin finally entered the meeting room in the Boris Yeltsin Presidential Library, more than three hours late, to be interviewed by a dozen exhausted journalists.
His retinue seemed wearily accustomed to the late-night regimen, but Putin himself - after back-to-back meetings, a speech and an on-stage interview at his annual business conference here in his home town of St Petersburg - was fresh, fulsome and feisty.
"We won in a free fight and we are going to host the World Cup," he declared, slapping away suggestions that Russia cheated with scandal-plagued FIFA to snare the 2018 competition. "That's it!"
As for whether Russia can't, or simply won't, control its border to stop heavy weapons flowing to separatists in Ukraine: "These people got weapons with which to defend themselves. They got them in various ways."
To the suggestion by Canada's premier, Stephen Harper, that Russia be expelled formally from the Group of Eight major economies: "I don't want to offend anyone, but if the United States says Russia should return to the G8, the prime minister will change his opinion." Continued...