Medvedev clashes with Putin over Libya

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President Dmitry Medvedev on Monday rebuked Prime Minister Vladimir Putin for comparing the West's military action in Libya to a medieval crusade, in the most public clash yet between Russia's rulers.

Putin earlier Monday slammed a UN resolution allowing military action on Libya as resembling a "medieval call to crusade", in one of his most virulent diatribes against the West in years.

In a hastily-convened briefing at his Gorky residence outside Moscow, Medvedev, wearing a bomber jacket emblazoned with the presidential insignia, openly contradicted Putin and said he largely supported the resolution.

With a grim expression on his face Medvedev added that using words such as "crusade" --- expeditions by armies in the Middle Ages to end Muslim rule over the holy land --- in reference to a Muslim country was unacceptable.

"Under no circumstances is it acceptable to use expressions which essentially lead to a clash of civilisations. Such as 'crusade' and so on," Medvedev said.

"It is unacceptable. Otherwise, everything may end up much worse compared to what's going on now. Everyone should remember that," Medvedev said.

He gave his qualified backing to the UN resolution on Libya, in remarks that are likely to further endear him to the West in the run-up to presidential polls in 2012.

Russia refrained from using its veto on the resolution and instead abstained, a position that allowed the resolution to be passed.

"I do not believe this resolution to be wrong. I believe that this resolution also reflects on the whole our understanding of the events happening in Libya," Medvedev said.

"But not in everything. That's why we did not use our veto right, it was a qualified refusal to veto, with rather clear consequences."

"We have done it consciously, those were my instructions to the foreign ministry and they have been implemented."

Medvedev said it had to be remembered that what was happening in Libya is "the result of the appalling behavior of the Libyan leadership and the crimes it committed against its own people".

The comments directly contradicted Putin, who had described the entire resolution as "flawed".

"The resolution by the Security Council, of course, is defective and flawed," Putin told workers on a visit to a missile factory in the central Russian region of Udmurtia.

"To me, it resembles some sort of medieval call to crusade when someone would appeal to someone to go to a certain place and free something there," he said in televised remarks.

Medvedev took over the Kremlin in 2008 after Putin served two four-year terms as president, with Putin immediately becoming a powerful prime minister.

Russia is heading for presidential elections in 2012 and neither 57-year-old Putin nor his 44-year-old protege Medvedev ruled out standing but they have said they would agree who would run to avoid competing with each other.

Analysts say that may not be easy as Medvedev has acquired a taste for power and Putin may be planning to return to the Kremlin for a third term.

Until now the two men have steered clear of clashes in public, preferring to sweep most conflicts and differences in opinion under the carpet and Monday's clash was the most visible yet.

Observers have long speculated that Washington favours Medvedev over Putin and the Kremlin chief's support for the UN resolution may earn him further political capital in the West, while Putin's belligerent rhetoric is expected to go down well with ordinary Russians.

Some recent reports suggested that US Vice President Joe Biden would warn Putin against considering a return to the Kremlin in 2012 polls, on his visit to Russia earlier this month.

© 2011 AFP

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