Sacked ambassador stokes Russian tension over Libya

Sacked ambassador stokes Russian tension over Libya

Medvedev and Putin…

Russia’s former ambassador to Libya has stoked new tension between President Dmitry Medvedev and Vladimir Putin, the prime minister, after calling the Kremlin’s acquiescence to air strikes targeting Libya a “betrayal of Russia’s interests”.

Putin and Medvedev, who are close political allies, appeared to clash on Monday after the former condemned support for the bombing as “a medieval call for the Crusades”.

Medvedev, who is responsible for setting the country’s foreign policy, responded by saying it was “inadmissible to use expressions like the Crusades that, in essence, can lead to a clash of civilizations”.

Aides to the two men have moved quickly to downplay the disagreement, but Vladimir Chamov has reignited it after flying home to Russia on Wednesday night. Chamov, who was sacked as ambassador to Tripoli by Medvedev earlier this month, told reporters that Moscow’s failure to oppose the bombing raids would lose Russian companies huge sums of money in arms and other contracts.

He denied rumors that he wrote a telegram to Medvedev calling him a traitor, but said: “I wrote a telegram in which I underlined that I represent the interests of Russia in Libya. Recently, our countries have aimed at close co-operation, and it is not in the interests of Russia to lose such a partner.”

He added: “Russian companies have signed very advantageous contracts for billions of euros for several years ahead that could be lost or have already been lost. In a certain way, that can be considered a betrayal of Russia’s interests.”

Russia abstained last week during the UN security council vote which approved military intervention in Libya.

Chamov, who was reportedly greeted at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport by Russian nationalists bearing bunches of flowers, declined to comment on Medvedev personally.

However, he said Qaddafi was “a very adequate person” and, when asked to comment on Putin’s Crusades comment, he replied: “Vladimir Vladimirovich, and this is something I particularly like about him, gave a very precise, short and profound definition. And here, I think, he is not far from the truth.”

Analysts said Putin’s comments reflected his desire to please patriotic voters, while Medvedev had acted shrewdly to preserve respect in the west while bolstering Russian interests.

“Russia took a pragmatic decision by abstaining in the security council vote,” said Alexei Fenenko, an international security expert at the Russian Academy of Sciences. “If the United States wants a third war, let them have it. There was already fighting in Libya even without the intervention, so our companies will lose out, bombing or not. Plus Russia’s past experience shows that the US is ready to act without UN support – a veto doesn’t stop them.”

Medvedev and Putin have both said they will agree together who contests the Russian presidency next March. Some observers think any disagreements between the two are cosmetic.

However, Gleb Pavlovsky, an analyst with close ties to the Kremlin, said discord in the ruling tandem had “become a generator of nervousness” in the political elite. “We need to enter a regime of certainty, when we know exactly who will run in the presidential elections,” he told the daily newspaper, Moskovsky Komsomolets.

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