Medvedev tells Obama avoid civilian casualties in Libya

25th March 2011, Comments 0 comments

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has urged US counterpart Barack Obama to avoid civilian casualties in Libya and limit the international campaign to the goals set by the United Nations.

Obama thanked Medvedev for "positive statements" about the mandate of a UN resolution implementing a no-fly zone over Libya, but his statement did not mention the issue of civilian casualties.

The Kremlin said Medvedev called Obama on Thursday to discuss the Libyan crisis amid Russian worries that the air offensive could soon spill over into a ground campaign specifically aimed at removing strongman Moamer Kadhafi from power.

Russia abstained from last week's UN Security Council resolution authorising a no-fly zone over Libya and strongly objects to its call for "all necessary measures" to protect civilians from Kadhafi's regime.

The Kremlin said Medvedev outlined these and other concerns in a telephone call that also touched on the two sides' disagreements over a missile defence shield for Europe and other international security problems.

"The Russian president especially noted the need to avoid casualties among the civilian population and the priority of achieving goals set by UN Security Council Resolution 1973," the Kremlin statement said.

The White House statement said Obama had "expressed his appreciation for Russia's support for the implementation" of the Security Council resolution "and subsequent positive statements that President Medvedev has made regarding the resolution's mandate."

Moscow has been one of the world's most vocal critics of the Libyan campaign despite its recent "reset" in relations with Washington and efforts by the two sides to erase the confrontational tone of the previous decade.

Russia has won the Obama administration's backing in its bid to join the World Trade Organisation -- also discussed in the phone call -- and has been praised by the United States for opening its skies to deliveries for the NATO-led campaign in Afghanistan.

But the Libyan crisis has reintroduced a chill to the two sides' relations that was particularly noticeable during this week's visit to Moscow by US Defence Secretary Robert Gates.

The Pentagon chief arrived in Moscow only hours after Prime Minister Vladimir Putin -- the former president and still widely seen as Russia's supreme leader -- compared the UN resolution to a medieval call to crusades.

Medvedev publicly criticised Putin for his harsh comments but then himself told Gates about "the indiscriminate use of force by the aviation" in Libya.

A seemingly puzzled Gates walked out of that meeting noting that he found Russia's arguments difficult to comprehend.

"It's almost as though some people here are taking at face value Kadhafi's claims about the number of civilian casualties, which as far as I'm concerned is just outright lies," Gates told reporters on his way out of Moscow.

Russia has struggled to formulate a unified stance on Libya amid initial suggestions that it was willing to act as a mediator between the Kadhafi regime and the West -- an offer rejected Wednesday by Gates.

While Moscow still has an embassy open in Tripoli, Kremlin officials have also been openly critical of Kadhafi.

"We maintain diplomatic relations (with the Libyan government). We legally have to maintain them -- but not politically," the top Kremlin foreign policy adviser Sergei Prikhodko told one Russian news agency on Wednesday.

But the opposition could not be recognised as the country's legitimate power because it has failed to unify behind a single new leader or idea.

"That is the main danger of the situation in Libya (and its difference) from the situations in Egypt and Tunisia," Prikhodko said.

Moscow's former ambassador to Tripoli, who was sacked only hours before the UN Security Council vote for apparently backing Moscow's ties with Kadhafi, meanwhile predicted an imminent ground operation ending in chaos.

"Kadhafi will fall and chaos will reign," Vladimir Chamov told Moscow Echo radio. "A territorial split and a repetition of the Iraq scenario are possible."

© 2011 AFP

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