Russian President Dmitry Medvedev dismissed as “unacceptable” Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s description of Western-led attacks on Libya as a “crusade,” marking their first public foreign-policy dispute.
Putin, who spoke amid a visit to Russia by U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, said the U.N. resolution and resulting allied offensive amounts to a “medieval call for a crusade.”
“It’s unacceptable to use terms that effectively lead to a clash of civilizations like the crusades,” Medvedev said at his residence outside Moscow. “Otherwise things could end far worse than what’s happening now.”
The clash came a year before the next presidential election, in which both men said they may run. Putin criticized last week’s United Nations resolution that authorized military action by the U.S. and its allies.
“Under Bill Clinton they bombed Yugoslavia and Belgrade. Bush sent troops into Afghanistan and under completely false pretenses, they sent troops to Iraq and liquidated the entire Iraqi leadership,” Putin said today on a visit to Votkinsk in the Volga region. “Now it’s Libya’s turn, under the pretext of protecting the civilian population.”
Russia, which could have vetoed the resolution as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, abstained, a decision that Medvedev defended today.
“I don’t consider this resolution to be wrong, and in fact I consider that it broadly reflects our view of what is happening in Libya, although not across the board,” Medvedev said. “That’s why we didn’t use our right of veto.”
Putin, a 58-year-old former KGB colonel, handed over the presidency in 2008 to Medvedev, 45, because of a constitutional ban on serving more than two consecutive terms. Putin hasn’t ruled out standing for election as president in March 2012, while an adviser to Medvedev, Igor Yurgens, said in January that the prime minister shouldn’t return to the Kremlin because he would risk triggering popular unrest.
The dispute highlights the differences between the two men, with Putin adopting a nationalist stance that is likely to play well with Russian voters, said Olga Kryshtanovskaya, a sociologist who studies Russia’s elites.
Medvedev, who is more accommodating to the U.S. and other Western powers, “is earning plaudits on the international stage, while Putin is earnings plaudits inside the country,” Kryshtanovskaya said.
“The Russian population backs Putin’s view that the U.S. is guilty of imperialism,” she said. Medvedev, as head of state, formally has the final say on foreign policy.
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