MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday condemned the attack that killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya, calling it a tragedy, and made clear he believed Western support for rebels in Arab countries was leading to chaos.
Putin, who has sharply criticized the United States and NATO for helping Libyan rebels drive Muammar Gaddafi from power and has warned of further bloodshed, said the attack underscored the need for closer cooperation against extremism.
Libyan Islamists staged military-style assaults at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, killing the U.S. ambassador and three other diplomats on Tuesday. Demonstrators attacked the U.S. embassies in Yemen and Egypt on Thursday.
"There can be only one reaction: we condemn this crime and express sympathy to the families of the dead," Putin said of the Libya attack.
"I very much hope this tragedy will push all of us together to intensify the joint - and I want to emphasize, joint - struggle against extremism and terrorist threats," he told reporters in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi.
He said governments that had come to power in the upheaval of the Arab Spring "should also not forget about their own responsibility for what happens on their territory".
But Putin also said that "we have had many conflicting views with our American partners on how to resolve problems in hot spots in recent years", adding that Russia believed "they must be resolved through difficult but peaceful negotiations".
"We do not support any armed groups that try to solve internal political problems with weapons," Putin said, adding that doing so risked leading to a "dead end".
"We do not know the ultimate aims of these 'freedom fighters'. We fear that the region may plunge into chaos, and that is actually happening."
Russia accused NATO of overstepping the bounds of a U.N. Security Council mandate for military involvement and using it to help rebels overthrow Gaddafi last year. Putin at the time likened the U.N. resolution to "medieval calls for Crusades".
Russia has accused Western nations of encouraging Syrian rebels including armed extremists, and has blocked U.S. and European efforts to put pressure on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during 17 months of bloodshed.
The attacks on the U.S. embassies in Yemen and Egypt on Thursday were in protest at a film which demonstrators consider blasphemous to Islam. American warships headed to Libya after the related violence that killed the U.S. ambassador there.
"We must all treat religious feelings with special attention and great care," Putin said.
Western governments have criticized as excessive the two-year jail sentences handed to three women from punk band Pussy Riot for a profanity-laced "punk prayer" in a Moscow church in which they urged the Virgin Mary to rid Russia of Putin.
"If a state does not react swiftly and firmly to provocations aimed against people's religious feelings, the angered, offended and humiliated people themselves will start to defend their own interests," Putin said.
"Sometimes this takes completely unacceptable forms and they use unacceptable methods," he said.
Additional reporting by Thomas Grove; Editing by Pravin Char