Russia's Medvedev criticizes France for backing Syrian rebels
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, speaking before a visit to Paris on Monday, criticized France's support for the Syrian opposition and accused European Union leaders of indecisiveness in dealing with the region's economic crisis.
France became the first European power to recognize Syria's new opposition coalition as the sole representative of its people and said on November 13 it would look into arming rebels against President Bashar al-Assad once they formed a government.
Medvedev, who stepped down as president in May to make way for Vladimir Putin, said such a decision was "unacceptable".
"The desire to change a political regime in another state through recognition of some political force as the sole sovereign representative seems to me not entirely civilized," Medvedev told French journalists in an interview cleared for publication on Monday.
Medvedev echoed Putin's statements that Russia takes a neutral stance and is not seeking to prop up Assad, saying that "Russia supports neither Assad's regime nor the opposition."
"But ... the question is how right it is to ... decide to support another political force if that political force is in direct confrontation with the officially recognized government of another country. And from the point of view of international law, it seems to me that is absolutely unacceptable."
Russia and France have been sharply at odds over Syria during a conflict activists say has killed more than 38,000 people since protests began in March 2011. France and other Western states have criticized Russia for vetoing three U.N. Security Council resolutions aimed to pressure Assad.
Medvedev is to meet French President Francois Hollande and Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault during his two-day visit, the first meeting of an intergovernmental commission since Putin and Hollande took office in May and Medvedev and Ayrault took up their posts. Most meetings are expected to occur on Tuesday.
Medvedev said that Russia, which holds 41 percent of its gold and forex reserves in euros, has been closely following the crisis management of the EU, which accounts for half of Russia's foreign trade.
"We are following it with suspense because sometime it seems to us that our European partners lack energy and will in their decision-making," Medvedev said.
Medvedev also accused France of setting up administrative barriers for Russian investors, often viewed in the West with suspicion over the origin of their money made in controversial privatizations of the 1990s.
"It is time to relax and understand that most Russian businessmen are law-abiding people who made their money in an honest way, and this money can be invested in any assets, including French ones," Medvedev said.
He defended new laws Kremlin critics have described as a crackdown on dissent since Putin's election to a six-year third term, and contended Russia has advanced democracy since a wave of opposition protests began last December by allowing more parties to contest elections.
Some analysts believe Medvedev may not hold his job for much longer. But Medvedev said he felt "comfortable" as prime minister under Putin - a reversal of their roles from 2008-2012, though Putin was always seen as calling the shots - and repeated that he did not rule out seeking the presidency again.
(Reporting by Gleb Bryanski; Editing by Douglas Busvine, Steve Gutterman and Paul Simao)