Libya war looms over US-Russia defence talks
Defence Secretary Robert Gates hopes to bolster US military ties with Russia in talks on Tuesday but the Western air assault on Libya threatened to dominate his visit.
The conflict in Libya exposed tensions between Russian Dmitry Medvedev and his predecessor Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, with the two arguing publicly Monday over the merits of military action against Moamer Kadhafi's regime.
While Gates praised Russia for abstaining on the UN vote that paved the way for a no-fly zone in Libya, Putin on Monday condemned the UN resolution as a "medieval call to crusade."
Medvedev, who was due to meet Gates in Moscow later on Tuesday, promptly rebuked Putin's comment as unacceptable and defended the UN resolution calling for protecting civilians from Kadhafi's forces.
Gates spent the first leg of his two-day tour in Saint Petersburg, where he lauded progress in US-Russia ties and cited Moscow's help in allowing NATO to use Russian territory to move troops and supplies to Afghanistan.
The Pentagon chief is due to meet his Russian counterpart, Anatoly Serdyukov, in Moscow before sitting down with Medvedev. There was no scheduled meeting, however, with Putin.
In a speech Monday to mid-level naval officers in Saint Petersburg, Gates touted "deepening" relations with the Russian armed forces, but acknowledged differences over US plans for a missile defence shield in Europe.
He proposed new details about how the two sides could collaborate on missile defence, including an exchange of launch information, setting up a joint data center and "allowing greater transparency with respect to our missile defence plans and exercises."
Gates delayed his trip by a day to monitor the launch of US missile and bombing attacks against Libya's regime, and made only a passing reference to the crisis in his speech.
In remarks to reporters before he landed in Russia, Gates praised Moscow for backing the US diplomatic stance on Iran and North Korea and its decision not to stand in the way of last week's UN resolution approving military action against Libya.
The former CIA director said the progress in relations with Russia would have been unimaginable in the early days of his career at the spy agency.
© 2011 AFP