Libya crisis strains NATO-Russia relations

July 5, 2011 at 6:37 AM
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SOCHI, Russia, July 5 (UPI) -- Disagreements between NATO and Russia over the alliance's stepped-up use of airstrikes against Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi have come to the fore.

Russia has condemned NATO's strikes, which it says are exploiting the ambiguous wording of the U.N. Security Council Resolution 1970 authorizing the alliance to protect civilians.

This has resulted in disproportionate use of force by NATO aimed at toppling the Gadhafi regime, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Monday.

Medvedev made the comments after a meeting with NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen in the Russian Black Sea resort city of Sochi -- part of the NATO Russia Council conference.

NATO maintains the strikes were necessary to disrupt attempts by pro-Gadhafi forces to increase attacks on civilians.

"NATO continues to increase the pressure on the Gadhafi regime and to protect civilians, wherever they are under threat of attack," Canadian Air Force Lt. Gen. Charles Bouchard, commander of the alliance's Operation Unified Protector, said Friday.

Since June 27, Bouchard said, NATO's "round-the-clock operations have resulted in the destruction of more than 50 military targets" in a region stretching from the Nafusa Mountains near the Libyan-Tunisian border to the city of Misurata."

Rasmussen again defended the alliance's actions at the NATO Russia Council meeting, Deutsche Welle reported.

"We have been mandated to take all necessary means to protect civilians against attacks and so far we have been very successful in protecting civilians. We have prevented a massacre on the Libyan people," Rasmussen said.

He and Medvedev met in Sochi with South African President Jacob Zuma, who told them of the African Union plans for a Libyan resolution.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told the German broadcaster the AU plan focuses on starting peace talks.

"We will support everything that fosters the swiftest halt to the military phase of the conflict and the shift to political channels," he said.

Lavrov, meeting with the French ambassador in Moscow last week, made it clear Moscow was displeased with NATO's stepped-up bombing campaign in Libya as anti-Gadhafi forces prepared to make a push toward Tripoli, accusing the West of circumventing the limits of the U.N. resolution.

He also criticized France for reports it had been supplying weapons to the Libyan rebels, saying, "This, if confirmed, is a serious breach of the U.N. Security Council Resolution 1970."

But, Russia and NATO are on the same page when it comes to Libya's future as a place where Gadhafi no longer ruled, Medvedev said Monday in Sochi.

"We all want Libya to be a modern, sovereign state," the president told reporters at the conference.

The Libya question has become an irritant in Russia-NATO relations at a time when the alliance is trying to persuade Moscow to join in a new anti-missile defense shield the United States says its meant to counter terror threats from Iran.

Rasmussen told reporters Sunday that although a deal on Russian participation in a missile shield seems remote, NATO says it would be a "great boon" to both sides.

But Medvedev said Monday his country still needs to be convinced a NATO-operated missile shield wouldn't be aimed at Moscow and instead prefers any European defenses to be jointly run by the two sides.

The Russian president, warning "our security cannot be divided," said again the Kremlin would opposed any anti-missile system that did not include "mutual confidence, transparency (and) predictability," Deutsche Welle reported.

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