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Medvedev slams Putin's 'inexcusable' Libya 'crusade' comments

The sharp exchange of words on Monday reveals what some Russia experts say is a growing rift between Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev.

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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.

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"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 views

Those 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.

"What has happened here is the first real clash within the tandem since Medvedev came into the Kremlin," says Pavel Salin, an expert with the independent Center for Political Assessments in Moscow. "In the past they seemed to be working well together and playing to separate audiences. Medvedev appealed to liberals and Putin to more conservative voters, and it was seen as a kind of 'good cop-bad cop' thing."

But the issue of Libya, a client state of the former USSR, appears to have brought on a real split, he says. "Putin, given his past [KGB] experience, is inclined to a conspiratorial view and his remarks had a certain anti-American spin. Medvedev, on the other hand, does not think in cold war terms. He would like to see Russia on good terms with everybody and perhaps play the role of an intermediary in this situation," he says.

Some observers suggest there's less to the public spat than meets the eye. Medvedev's statement about Libya, published on the Kremlin website, contains measured criticism of the Western military campaign as well as the jab at Putin. "These operations have damaged civilian sites, and there are as yet unconfirmed reports that innocent people have been killed, and this shows that, sadly, the countries taking part in these military operations have not managed to achieve [the stated] goals," he said.

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