The Christian Science MonitorFred Weir22 March 2011
Moscow – Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev exchanged sharp words Monday over the true nature of Western military intervention in Libya, leading many observers to wonder whether the gloves have finally come off in the long-anticipated battle over which of them will run for president in elections that are just one year away.
Though the two have sparred indirectly before, they have publicly maintained that everything is fine with the "tandem" arrangement under which they have jointly run Russia since Mr. Putin handpicked Mr. Medvedev to succeed him as president three years ago.
Both men have said they'd like to run again for what will be a six-year presidential term next year, and have insisted that they will decide amicably between themselves which of them will be the establishment candidate – a status that virtually guarantees success in Russia's heavily stage-managed political culture.
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Perhaps it's not so amicable anymore.
The tough public words were exchanged over an issue of foreign policy, which is a presidential prerogative under Russia's Constitution. While answering questions from defense workers Monday, Putin slammed the Western-authored United Nations resolution that authorized the use of force to protect Libyan civilians from forces loyal to Muammar Qaddafi as allowing "anyone to do anything they want" against a sovereign state.
"It resembles a medieval appeal for a crusade in which somebody calls upon somebody to go to a certain place and liberate it," Putin said. "This is becoming a persistent tendency in US policy," mentioning the bombing of Belgrade during the 1999 Kosovo war, and subsequent US-led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. "Now it is Libya’s turn, under the pretext of protecting the peaceful population. But in bomb strikes it is precisely the civilian population that gets killed. Where is the logic and the conscience?"
A few hours later Medvedev weighed in. Without naming Putin, he made clear that he disagreed with both his tone and the implication that Western powers are acting improperly in Libya.
"It is absolutely inexcusable to use expressions that, in effect, lead to a clash of civilizations, such as 'crusades,' and so on. That is unacceptable," Medvedev said. "All that is now happening in Libya is the result of the appalling behavior of the Libyan leadership and the crimes it committed against its own people."
Russian diplomats did not veto the authorization of force resolution when it came before the Security Council because "I do not consider this resolution to be wrong," he added.
Divergent viewsThose two sharply divergent foreign policy views – one bristling with suspicion toward the West, the other frankly identifying Russia's interests with it – have long been on display in Moscow. But never before have Medvedev and Putin so clearly moved into separate corners in what looks like the prelude to a real fight, analysts say.
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