MOSCOW, April 26 (UPI) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin claims that U.S. intelligence once sought out and supported separatist rebels in his nation's North Caucasus region in an effort to spur regime change in Moscow, a new documentary revealed Sunday.
Putin made the remarks in a retrospective program that aired in Russia Sunday to mark his 15 years in the Kremlin. In the broadcast interview, he said the U.S. involvement was detected by Russian intelligence officials via intercepted phone calls during the early 2000s.
"Once, our special services registered direct contact between fighters from the North Caucasus and representatives of U.S. special services in Azerbaijan," he said in the interview, the Financial Times reported. "Ten days later, [Russian officials] got a letter from their colleagues in Washington saying 'We have maintained relations with all of the Russian opposition in the past and we will continue to do so.'"
Shortly after Putin became prime minister in 1999, he sent Russian troops to secure the runaway Chechnya region in the North Caucasus after an earlier military campaign failed to do so. Putin claims that during the struggle U.S. intelligence operatives made direct communications with the insurgents, whom he called "terrorists," in an effort to help them fight Moscow.
"One should never use terrorists to solve short-term political or even geopolitical objectives," he said. "They were actually helping them, even with transportation."
The two-hour documentary, titled The President, chronicled Putin's achievements and reflected what analysts say is his constant suspicion of the United States and other nations -- whom, he claimed, wanted to see Russia wiped off the map.
"My counterparts, a lot of presidents and a prime minister told me later on that they had decided for themselves by then that Russia would cease to exist in its current form," he said in the interview, reported by the Moscow Times.
In October, Putin accused Washington of upsetting global security through international "dictatorship" and "blackmail" of world leaders.
Last year, Putin led the Russian charge to annex Crimea in Ukraine, which subsequently triggered widespread violence and more than 6,000 deaths in the fighting between pro-Russian troops and separatist forces. In response to the annexation, President Barack Obama levied economic sanctions against Moscow -- an action Putin believes wasn't punishment as much as it was simply part of the West's continual crusade to prevent Russian development.
"This is a policy we have been familiar with for centuries," he said, adding that his move to acquire Crimea was done to satisfy the will of his people and restore "historic justice."
"I believe we did the right thing and I don't regret anything," he said.
Relations between the United States and Russia are currently at the lowest point they have been since the Cold War ended in 1991, analysts believe. The U.S. Department of State has not yet responded to Putin's allegations, the Financial Times reported. But given the inflammatory nature of some of Putin's remarks, the Obama administration is expected to address the accusations, possibly Monday.
"Some people, particularly special forces of western countries, think that if someone works to destabilize their main geopolitical opponent -- which, as we realize now, in their minds has always been Russia -- that this is overall to their advantage," Putin said in the documentary. "It turned out that that's not true."
After a short stint as prime minister in 1999, Putin was elected president and served between 2000 and 2008 before taking on four more years as prime minister. In 2012, he won a third presidential term that analysts say has been accompanied by a wave of anti-Western propaganda and a nostalgic aspiration to return to the Soviet glory years.