Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s comments that the UN Security Council Resolution authorizing military action against Libya were tantamount to medieval calls for crusades has prompted Russian President Dmitri Medvedev to publicly condemn these sentiments as “unacceptable” and to ensure that Russia supports the international intervention.
On 21 March, Putin stated: “This resolution of the Security Council is, of course, inadequate and flawed. If we look at what it says, then it will become clear that it allows everyone to take any actions against a sovereign state. In general all this reminds me of a medieval call for a crusade; when someone would call upon someone to go to a certain place in order to liberate something.”
Later that same day, Medvedev responded by saying: “The situation is being currently described in different ways. One should be maximally accurate in assessments. By no means is it acceptable to use expressions, that, in fact, lead to clash of civilizations, such as “crusades” and others. It is unacceptable.”
“There is one simple reason why Russia did not use it [the right of veto at UNSC] – I didn’t think that resolution was incorrect. Moreover, I believe that the resolution as a whole reflects our understanding of what is going on in Libya, but not fully. That is why we didn’t use the right of veto and it was a qualified refusal from vetoing.”
Medvedev said It would be wrong to say that “we didn’t understand what we were doing. We did this consciously and there were instructions from me to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in this respect, which were implemented.”
According to Medvedev, while Russia will not participate in the intervention, it will act as a mediator if needed.
Russia’s Kommersant daily reported that at one point Medvedev was “inclining towards supporting” UNSC Resolution No. 1973 while the Foreign Ministry advocated a veto. In the end, Russia abstained from the vote, but not before Medvedev fired Russian ambassador to Libya Vladimir Chamov who had been advocating support for Qaddafi to the “very last moment” rather than “defend interests of his own country.” This was attributed to a source familiar with the decision to fire Chamov.
Speaking to the Global Intelligence Report, expert Simon Saradzhyan, research fellow at the Harvard Belfer Center, said that “Medvedev’s decision to abstain reflects the hierarchy of Russia’s interests.
Preservation of Libya’s ruling regime is not a vital interest for Russia, while continuing rapprochement with the US and Western Europe – which both want Gaddafi gone -,is. Even though Gaddafi has agreed to buy billions of dollars of weapons from Russia, the probability of him actually paying under the current circumstances is very low and would have remained low in the medium-term.”
As such, Saradzhyan suggested that Medvedev was right to view these contracts as a lost cause.
There are also internal political implications for Russia, and the here the Putin-Medvedev dynamic is noteworthy.
“Medvedev has criticized the performance of Putin’s cabinet on a number of occasions in the past, primarily focusing on domestic economic issues, but Putin has not reacted,” Saradzhyan said.
“Medvedev has also once warned all government officials against commenting on the case of [embattled Lukos oil tycoon Mikhail] Khodorkovsky until there is a final verdict by the court of the highest instance only to see Putin and his ally Deputy Prime Minister Sechin not only comment on the case, but also accuse the former oligarch of ordering contract hits even though no such charges were filed against him. Putin also frequently comments on Russia’s foreign policy decisions, though the latter is beyond his department.”
In short, “Medvedev is not shying away from criticism of Putin as the informal primaries gain momentum ahead of March 2012 presidential elections,” he said.
Putin and Medvedev are poised to decide amongst themselves who will run for president, and a decision must be made by December, the tentative deadline for the official nomination of candidates.
“It will be Putin who will decides which of the two (or a 3rd candidate) runs,” Saradzhyan said.
For now, Saradzhyan said, Medvedev’s chances look good, but Putin may stay on as prime minister should Medvedev win another term as president.
On Tuesday, a think tank (the Institute for Contemporary Development) that appears to operate as a Kremlin mouth piece published a set of reform proposals that are said to likely to be put forth as Medvedev’s presidential campaign platform, according to a report from the Moscow Times.
–by Jen Alic, originally written for the Global Intelligence Report, and ISA Intel partner organization.