Home > Libya, Russia > In Rare Split, Two Leaders in Russia Differ on Libya

In Rare Split, Two Leaders in Russia Differ on Libya

March 22, 2011


MOSCOW — The conflict in Libya caused an unusual rift on Monday between Russia’s two leaders, Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin and his protégé, President Dmitri A. Medvedev, who typically choreograph their statements and refrain from criticizing each other.

Dmitri A. Medvedev said words like “crusade,” used by Vladimir V. Putin, were unacceptable when discussing the Libya airstrikes.

Mr. Putin appeared to displease Mr. Medvedev on Monday by harshly assailing the

airstrikes by coalition forces in Libya. Mr. Putin said the United Nations Security Council resolution that authorized the attacks was “deficient and flawed.” Russia abstained from voting on the resolution last week, deciding not to use a veto to block it.

“In general, it reminds me of a medieval call for a crusade,” Mr. Putin said.

Mr. Putin is widely considered Russia’s paramount leader, but Mr. Medvedev, as president, is in charge of foreign policy. Later in the day, Mr. Medvedev called a news conference where he pointedly rejected Mr. Putin’s language, though he did not mention Mr. Putin by name

“Under no circumstances is it acceptable to use expressions that essentially lead to a clash of civilizations — such as ‘crusade’ and so on,” said Mr. Medvedev, who spoke to reporters while wearing a bomber jacket with the presidential seal.

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

The apparent tension between the two men set off speculation

about whether they were starting to jockey for attention in advance of presidential elections next year. Both have said that they are considering running, though they have emphasized that they would decide together who would be the candidate and not compete against each other.

Mr. Medvedev referred more positively to the United Nations resolution, saying that it was important to remember that the Libyan leadership had committed crimes against the Libyan people.

Mr. Putin did not offer any response to Mr. Medvedev, and it was unclear Monday night how serious the schism was.

Mr. Putin served two terms as president but was barred by the Constitution from a third consecutive term. He then anointed Mr. Medvedev, a close aide, as his successor in the 2008 election.

The focus on Mr. Putin and Mr. Medvedev on Monday overshadowed a visit to Russia by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who was in St. Petersburg before heading to Moscow for meetings with Mr. Medvedev and other senior Russian officials.

In St. Petersburg, Mr. Gates addressed the next generation of Russia’s military leadership — midcareer naval officers — and urged them to “work with multilateral coalitions to achieve common security objectives.”

He listed areas of cooperation between the United States and Russia, including stabilizing Afghanistan, curtailing Iran’s nuclear ambitions and countering terrorism and the narcotics trade.

Mr. Gates, who holds a doctorate in Russian and Soviet studies and, during a lengthy career at the C.I.A. and on the National Security Council, became one of the government’s most senior Kremlinologists, wrote an assessment in the early 1980s that remains relevant today.

As recounted in Mr. Gates’s memoir, “From the Shadows,” his memo on relations between Washington and Moscow cited the many times “a promising dialogue had been cut short by events. There are all too many places these days where such events can take place. It will take considerable skill and luck just to keep things from getting even worse.”

That assessment of the unsteady nature of ties remains relevant today, Mr. Gates said. But, speaking in advance of Mr. Putin’s comments on Libya, Mr. Gates said the current relationship could not be derailed by any single disagreement.

“I would say we’re probably not there yet, but it’s not nearly as fragile as it was 30 years ago,” Mr. Gates said.

%d bloggers like this: