US, Russia clash over bombing raids in Libya

Russia and the United States on Tuesday clashed over Western bombing raids in Libya.

Last Updated: Mar 23, 2011, 00:13 AM IST

Moscow: Russia and the United States
on Tuesday clashed over Western bombing raids in Libya, with the US
defense chief saying Moscow had accepted Muammar Gaddafi`s
"lies" about civilian casualties.

In a visit dominated by tensions over the Libya
conflict, Gates defended the air strikes against Gaddafi`s
regime even as he predicted that the bombing would be scaled
back within days once anti-aircraft systems are taken out.

As Gates sat grim-faced next to him, Russian Defence
Minister Anatoly Serdyukov called for an immediate ceasefire
in Libya and charged coalition forces with killing civilians
in their bombing campaign.

He said civilian deaths "shouldn`t have been let to
happen and we informed our US counterparts of our opposition".

Gates, however, said international forces were careful
to avoid risking civilian lives and that most targets in the
strikes were located well away from cities and towns.

He later told reporters travelling with him that
nearly all civilian casualties in the fighting had been caused
by Gaddafi`s forces and questioned Moscow`s "tone".

"It`s almost as though some people here are taking at
face value Gaddafi`s claims about the number of civilian
casualties, which as far as I`m concerned is just outright
lies," he said.

Russia abstained from last week`s UN Security Council
vote approving international armed intervention in Libya,
which aims to protect civilians against Gaddafi`s forces.

US officials were grateful Russia chose not to block
military action, but Moscow appeared increasingly
uncomfortable as US and European forces pounded regime targets
for a fourth day.

Russia`s tougher stance on Libya came amid signs of
strain in the coalition of countries backing the intervention,
with Britain, France and the United States trying to shore up
Arab support.

Gates arrived in Moscow a day after furious comments
from Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who compared the
UN resolution that allowed air strikes on Libya to a medieval
call to a crusade.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev later tried to
water down Putin`s outburst, saying Moscow could help mediate
an end to the conflict while voicing disapproval of Kadhafi`s

Asked if he thought Serdyukov was backing Putin`s line
or Medvedev`s stance, Gates said "he threaded his way pretty
well between them", and added: "But it sounded to me like his
comments were closer to President Medvedev."

While dismissing Moscow`s criticism, Gates said he
told his Russian counterpart that bombing raids would likely
be scaled down within a "few" days as air defence sites are
knocked out.