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Medvedev Clashes With Putin as Premier Slams Libya 'Crusade'

Dmitri Medvedev and Vladimir PutinMarch 21 (Bloomberg) -- 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 UN 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, without mentioning Putin by name. "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 have 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 central Russia. "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 UN Security Council, abstained, a decision that Medvedev defended today while regretting civilian casualties caused by the allied campaign.

"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."

Constitutional Ban

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.

Putin's reaction may signal that he wasn't fully satisfied with how Medvedev handled the decision to abstain on the Libyan resolution, said Fyodor Lukyanov, an analyst at the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy in Moscow. The president as head of state formally has the final say on foreign policy.

'Foreign Policy Mistake'

"It seems as though Putin wasn't fully informed about this decision and is irritated that Russia made what he considers a foreign policy mistake," said Lukyanov.

The dispute also 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, a trained lawyer 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.

Article ©2011 BLOOMBERG L.P. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED; article first appeared at http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-03-21/medvedev-clashes-with-putin-after-premier-slams-libya-effort-as-crusade-.html

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