Gates visits Russia as Putin decries UN action on Libya
Russian Prime Minister Putin said the Western assault on Qaddafi's offensive capabilities resembles a medieval crusade.
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Impact on Moscow politics
Russia's decision not to block the UN resolution was probably the result of a tough compromise between Mr. Medvedev, who favors greater cooperation with the West, and more hard-line forces in the foreign and defense ministries, analysts say.Skip to next paragraph
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"Russia's leadership is clearly split over this issue, with Medvedev being most interested in seeing Russia become a member of the Western group of democratic countries," says Alexander Konovalov, president of the independent Institute for Strategic Assessments in Moscow. "The Kremlin's view is that we have a long list of good reasons to cooperate with the West, so why jeopardize our improving relations with the US and European Union over Libya?"
But Russia's Foreign Ministry has already expressed anger over reports that dozens of civilians may have been killed in the first wave of Libya air strikes, and called upon the West to "halt the indiscriminate use of force." Analysts say the longer the operation goes on, and the messier it becomes, the more political damage it's likely to do to Medvedev.
"The liberal wing of Russia's establishment is winning so far," says Dmitry Babich, an expert with the official RIA-Novosti agency. "But if difficulties arise, the supporters of the Arab world are going to push harder [for condemnation of Western intervention]. Medvedev sympathizes with the West, but not to the extent that he will risk losing his power over it."
US still optimistic about Russian relations
Addressing Russian officers at the Kuznetsov Naval Academy in St. Petersburg Monday, Mr. Gates, who is on his last official visit to Russia, took an optimistic view of the often-bumpy US-Russia relationship.
"We’ve disagreed before, and Russia still has uncertainties" about missile defense and other thorny issues, he said. "However, we’ve mutually committed to resolving these difficulties."
Though ongoing US-Russian differences over plans to build a Eurasian antimissile shield were supposed to top Gates's agenda in Russia, the mayhem in Libya and wider Middle East turmoil could eclipse those plans.
"Events in the Middle East are going to deeply affect the whole calculus about missile defense, and what to do about Iran, and many other common problems," says Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of Russia in Global Affairs, a leading Moscow foreign policy journal.
"It may be that [Gates and Medvedev] will put off that conversation and focus on what's going on in Libya and other Arab countries. Until the dust settles there, it makes no sense to talk about things in the same old way since nobody can say what the world is going to look like," after these revolutions end, he says.