Unrepentant on Ukraine, Putin prepares to meet his critics
* Putin to see Western leaders for first time in months
* US and EU have imposed sanctions over Ukraine
* Putin defiant on Ukraine but sanctions start to bite
By Timothy Heritage
MOSCOW, June 4 (Reuters) - Whether he is made to feel like an unwelcome guest or the Prodigal Son returning, Vladimir Putin is relishing the chance to show his defiance over Ukraine at his first meetings with Western leaders in months.
With his ratings soaring at home, the West showing no taste for a fight over Crimea and Europe reluctant to hit Moscow with new sanctions, the Russian president feels he has the upper hand as he sets out for World War Two anniversary events in France.
He also has a point to prove to Barack Obama over comments the U.S. president made last week, suggesting sanctions were deterring the Russian leader from pursuing his policies in Ukraine and that Putin was acting from a position of weakness.
Asked at a conference in St. Petersburg late last month about Obama's frequent criticisms of him over the Ukraine crisis, Putin replied brusquely: "Who made him the judge?"
The response was typical of a man who, far from cowering under sanctions and clamouring to be welcomed back into the international fold, seems to be revelling in the ideological and geopolitical battle over Ukraine and his campaign to have Moscow treated as an equal by its old Cold War adversaries. Continued...