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Russian media claims Moscow rift over Libya

Stephen Ennis | Monday 21 March 2011, 14:37

One of Russia's top daily newspapers, Kommersant, has suggested there may be a rift in Moscow over the UN-sanctioned military action in Libya.
In a front-page story today, Kommersant suggests that opinion in Moscow had been divided on how to respond to UN Security Council Resolution 1973, authorising military action to protect Libyan civilians against forces loyal to the country's leader, Mu'ammar al-Qadhafi (Colonel Gaddafi).
Kommersant reports: "As the paper is assured by well-informed sources, Russian President Dmitriy Medvedev at one moment was even inclined to support UN Security Council Resolution 1973. In the Russian Foreign Ministry, meanwhile, they debated the expediency of applying the right of veto and blocking the resolution. In the end, a compromise was reached and a decision was taken to abstain."
Kommersant goes on to quote Medvedev's press secretary, Natalya Timakova, as apparently rejecting this suggestion and asserting that Moscow's position had been "consistent from the very beginning and remains so now".
But the paper provides further evidence of a rift - this time in relation to Vladimir Chamov, the Russian ambassador to Libya who was unexpectedly sacked just ahead of the vote on Resolution 1973. It quotes a source as saying the decision to sack Chamov was made "not in the Russian Foreign Ministry, but in the Kremlin, where the actions of the diplomat were judged to be inappropriate in the situation".
Chamov, Kommersant suspects, paid the price for being out of step with the foreign policy position Medvedev outlined in a major speech in July when he said Moscow should support the "humanisation of social systems everywhere in the world".
Evidence of a rift can also be gleaned from coverage of the attacks on Libya on the country's three main TV channels.
The lead report on Rossiya 1's Vesti Nedeli highlighted attacks by pro-Qadhafi forces on "Libyan population centres" and seemed to cast doubt on the claims made on Libyan state TV that foreign attacks had resulted in significant numbers of civilian casualties.
This was in contrast to a statement released by the Russian Foreign Ministry earlier that day which appeared to take at face value Tripoli's claims that "48 civilians were killed and over 150 wounded" in the attacks.
Voskresnoye Vremya, the flagship current affairs show on state-controlled Channel One, was unremittingly critical of military action following the UN resolution.
The headline sequence warned that Libya could turn into "a new Iraq" and spoke sarcastically about "mass bombing as the first stage on the road to democracy". The sarcastic note was taken up by anchor Petr Tolstoy, who sneered at the "humanitarian aspirations of both Nobel Peace Prize winner Barack Obama and that famous peacekeeper Nicolas Sarkozy". Tolstoy also asserted that experts were warning that casualties from the bombings would "significantly exceed" the number of casualties likely to arise from civil war.
Correspondent Yeveniy Baranov continued in similar vein, describing the air strikes as "aggression by leading world powers against a sovereign country". He even described Resolution 1973 as a "model of every possible breach of international law". (He did not, however, explain why, if that was the case, Russia had not used its veto to vote it down.)
Tolstoy ended the show by linking the situation in Libya to the forthcoming screening on Channel One of Roman Polanski's film The Ghost Writer, which, according to a number of critics, includes a thinly veiled portrayal of former British prime minister Tony Blair. "I would highly commend this film to people who want to understand the real motives behind the taking of certain decisions by Western politicians," he remarked.
Tolstoy is a well-known supporter of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Ahead of the parliamentary elections in 2007 he publicly announced that he had joined the 'Za Putina' (For Putin) movement which campaigned for Putin to remain in government following the end of his second presidential term in 2008. On 21 March, Putin said that Resolution 1973 resembled a "medieval call for a crusade".
Stephen Ennis is Russian media analyst for BBC Monitoring.
Post categories: World Affairs


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