Moscow - The United States grew "arrogant and self-confident" after the collapse of the Soviet Union, leading to the expansion of the NATO military alliance, former leader Mikhail Gorbachev has said.
In recent years President Vladimir Putin has grown increasingly insistent that NATO is encroaching close to Russia's borders, and Moscow last week demanded "legal guarantees" that the US-led alliance halt its eastward expansion.
Gorbachev resigned as president of the Soviet Union on December 25, 1991, days after the leaders of Belarus, Russia and Ukraine said the USSR no longer existed.
"How can one count on equal relations with the United States and the West in such a position," Gorbachev told state news agency RIA Novosti on Friday, on the eve of the anniversary of his resignation as the leader of the USSR.
He said there was a "triumphant mood in the West, especially in the United States" after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.
"They grew arrogant and self-confident. They declared victory in the Cold War," said the 90-year-old.
He insisted Moscow and Washington were "together" in pulling the world out of confrontation and the nuclear race.
"No, the 'winners' decided to build a new empire. Hence the idea of NATO expansion," Gorbachev added.
However, he welcomed forthcoming security talks between Moscow and Washington.
"I hope there will be a result," he said.
Last week Moscow presented the West with sweeping security demands, saying NATO must not admit new members and seeking to bar the US from establishing new bases in former Soviet countries.
Putin said Thursday that Washington had been willing to discuss the proposals and talks could happen at the start of next year in Geneva.
Putin says ball in US court on Russia security proposals (Dec 23)
A senior US official said Washington was ready for talks "as soon as early January".
Putin, a former KGB agent and loyal servant of the Soviet Union, was dismayed when it fell apart, once calling the collapse "the greatest geopolitical disaster of the 20th century".
Many Russians remember the end of the Soviet era for the economic and political crisis that followed and credit Putin with returning the country to the international arena.
Valentina Shmeleva labelled the leaders immediately preceding Putin as "traitors", particularly Russia's first president Boris Yeltsin.
"Gorbachev destroyed the Soviet Union and the drunkard Yeltsin helped," said the 84-year-old.
Evgeny Dotsenko, 46, said it was a "pity" that the USSR fell apart.
"I was born and grew up in the Soviet Union and I liked living then. Everything was free: education, medicine, everything," Dotsenko, who works as a metro electrician, told AFP.
What is the NATO military alliance?