Mr Putin: "Brussels is a wonderful city but.."

The Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin held up Belgium as an example as he warned the Europeans against exporting their model of democracy to other regions.

The Russian Premier was in Brussels with a high-powered Russian government delegation for a meeting with Commission President José Manuel Barroso on Thursday. The Russians are unhappy with new regulations on Europe's internal energy market.

A journalist also quizzed Mr Putin about the danger of the rebellions in the Arab world spreading to Russia's northern Caucasus. This prompted the Russian leader to launch into a warning to the Europeans against exporting their democratic model to other regions.

Mr Putin touched on the Europeans' insistence on democratic elections in Palestine and the subsequent victory at the polls of the Islamist Hamas movement. He added: "People have the right to determine their own destiny without foreign involvement. Communities should evolve towards democratic institutions, though this should be based on internal processes."

The Russian leader continued: "Brussels is a wonderful city, but Belgium has not had a central government for 250 days. Mr Putin's thoughts then reverted to elections in a Caucasian republic during the '90s in which ethnic differences played an important role and that ended in bloodshed. It was not quite clear whether the Russian Premier thought matters could move this way here too.