Vladimir Putin, Russia?s president, on Thursday hit back at accusations that the country was using energy as a weapon, saying critics were deliberately distorting its policy of moving to market prices for oil and gas supplies to former Soviet neighbours. In a three-and-a-half hour annual press conference ? much of it on live television ? Mr Putin insisted Russia had helped safeguard the sovereignty of newly-independent states after the collapse of the Soviet Union. But he said subsidies could not go on for ever.