Putin likens U.N. Libya resolution to "Crusades"

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin speaks in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, about 6,500 miles east of Moscow, on the Pacific Island of Sakhalin, Russia, Saturday, March 19, 2011.
Pool, Alexei Druzhinin,AP Photo/RIA Novosti

BRUSSELS - Sharp divisions strained the coalition supporting military airstrikes against Libya, as Germany questioned the wisdom of the operation Monday and diplomats said NATO was stymied by a key member from participating.

The airstrikes against Muammar Qaddafi's forces also drew scathing criticism from Russia, a nation outside the coalition, with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin saying that the U.N. resolution allowing the international use of force in Libya reminded him of the Crusades.

"The resolution is defective and flawed," Putin told workers at a Russian ballistic missile factory, according to Reuters. "It allows everything. It resembles medieval calls for crusades."

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Turkey, a NATO member that sees itself as a bridge between Europe and the Muslim world, declined Sunday to support a military plan for the alliance to enforce a no-fly zone in Libya. On Monday, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said support was possible — but only if certain conditions were met.

"NATO should only enter Libya to determine that Libya belongs to Libyans and not to distribute its natural resources and richness to others," Erdogan said, speaking in Saudi Arabia. He said the operation must not turn into an occupation.

NATO's participation in any military action against Libya would require the approval of all 28 NATO members.

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Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Selcuk Unal, meanwhile, denied that his country was grounding NATO.

"Turkey is not blocking NATO, Turkey has been contributing to the preparations with a positive approach since the beginning," Unal told The Associated Press.

Diplomats said the North Atlantic Council, NATO's top decision-making body, would again discuss the no-fly plan when envoys meet in Brussels on Monday afternoon, and might issue an order for alliance forces to implement it.

Still, even if such an order is adopted, it will require several more days before aircraft under NATO command start flying missions over Libya. The order also is likely to restrict NATO's air forces to making sure there are no unauthorized flights over Libya, with no mention of attacks on ground targets.

The United States, France and Britain initiated such attacks early Sunday, raining cruise missiles and precision bombs on Libyan military targets on the ground, including Qaddafi's residential compound.

Diplomats said Turkey, NATO's only predominantly Muslim member, was angered by its exclusion from an emergency summit Saturday in Paris organized by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, at which the 22 participants agreed to launch armed action against Qaddafi's military. The diplomats said Turkey's envoys have warned that NATO's participation in the airstrikes could damage the alliance's standing in the Islamic world at a time when it is heavily engaged in the war in Afghanistan.

But other member nations have expressed concerns, as well, diplomats said, including over whether NATO aircraft and other equipment would have to be diverted from other missions, including the one in Afghanistan.

The diplomats, who are accredited to NATO, spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the discussions.

The European Union's top foreign policy official, meanwhile, said the head of the Arab League had been misquoted as criticizing the operation.

Support from the Arab League was critical to obtaining U.N. approval for international action to protect Libyan civilians. But after the international operation began, the league's chief was quoted as telling reporters in Cairo that it should not have included attacks on Libyan targets on the ground.

"What happened differs from the no-fly zone objectives," Amr Moussa was said. "What we want is civilians' protection, not shelling more civilians."

But EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said Monday there had been a misunderstanding. She spoke on her way into a meeting of EU foreign ministers at which Libya was certain to be discussed.

"Moussa was misquoted, as I understand it," she said, without elaborating.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, however, offered Moussa's comments as evidence that Germany's decision not to participate in the operation had been justified.

"This does not mean that we are neutral," Westerwelle said. "This does not mean that we have any sympathy with the dictator Qaddafi. It means that we see the risks, and when we listen closely to what the Arab League yesterday said."

Westerwelle said Germany would focus on broadening economic and financial sanctions against the Qaddafi regime.

On Monday, the EU extended its travel ban and the freeze on assets to another 11 Libyan officials and its assets freeze to a further nine Libyan companies. It did not name the people or the companies involved.

Moussa, meanwhile, sought to smooth over the controversy, though apparently without retracting his comments.

"We respect the Security Council's resolution and we have no conflict with the resolution, especially as it confirms that there is no invasion or occupation of Libyan territory," he said.

He said the U.N. resolution "only deals with threats against citizens in Benghazi and elsewhere in Libya" and said the league would continue working to protect Libyan civilians.

One analyst said Turkey is not completely opposed to military action, and values its role as a broker.

"Turkey is demanding that the proposed no-fly zone be narrowed," said Ilter Turan, a professor of political science at Istanbul's Bilgi University. "Turkey is disturbed over the uncertainty of limits of such a no-fly zone amid bombings of French and British planes.

"Turkey with its Muslim identity is emerging as a peace-builder and prefers reducing of the presence of foreigners and its policies might differ from those of Europe or the United States," he added.

Still he noted that Turkey, much like it did during the Iran embargo, complied with the U.N. resolution then and is doing so now with Libya.

Turkey has vast business interests in Libya, including in construction sector and had relatively friendly ties with Qaddafi. Before the uprising against Qaddafi's 42-year rule last month, over 30,000 Turks were working in Libya.