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Putin likens U.N. Libya resolution to crusades

VOTKINSK, Russia (Reuters) - Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin likened the call for armed intervention in Libya to the medieval crusades Monday in the first major remarks from Russia since a Western coalition began airstrikes.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (C) speaks to workers and journalists during his visit to a factory near the town of Votkinsk in the Udmurt republic of Russia, March 21, 2011. REUTERS/Alexei Nikolsky/RIA Novosti/Pool

In some of his harshest criticism of the United States since President Barack Obama began a campaign to improve ties, Putin also compared the intervention with the Bush-era invasion of Iraq and said it showed Russia is right to boost its military.

Putin, whose country opted not to block the U.N. resolution last week leading to the strikes, said that Muammar Gaddafi’s government was undemocratic but emphasized that did not justify military intervention.

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

Russia, a veto-wielding permanent U.N. Security Council member, abstained from the vote Thursday in which the council authorized a no-fly zone over Libya and “all necessary measures” to protect civilians against Gaddafi’s forces.

“What troubles me is not the fact of military intervention itself -- I am concerned by the ease with which decisions to use force are taken in international affairs.”

“This is becoming a persistent tendency in U.S. policy,” Putin said.

“During the Clinton era they bombed Belgrade, Bush sent forces into Afghanistan, then under an invented, false pretext they sent forces into Iraq, liquidated the entire Iraqi leadership -- even children in Saddam Hussein’s family died.”

“Now it is Libya’s turn, under the pretext of protecting the peaceful population,” Putin said. “But in bomb strikes it is precisely the civilian population that gets killed. Where is the logic and the conscience?”

CASE FOR Defense

Putin said that “today’s events, including in Libya, confirmed our decisions on strengthening Russia’s defense capabilities were correct.”

Russia is planning to spend nearly 20 trillion roubles ($707.2 billion) through 2020 to modernize its armed forces.

Russia, which faces accusations of backsliding on democracy during Putin’s 2000-2008 presidency, has repeatedly opposed international intervention in what it says are nations’ internal affairs.

“The Libyan regime does not meet any of the criteria of a democratic state but that does not mean that someone is allowed to interfere in internal political conflicts to defend one of the sides,” Putin said.

Russian-U.S. relations have improved in the past two years under Obama’s “reset,” capped by the New START nuclear arms reduction treaty that took effect last month.

During that period, Putin had toned down the anti-Western rhetoric he often employed as president.

Putin has hinted he will seek to return to the presidency or endorse President Dmitry Medvedev for a second term in a March 2012 election.

Writing by Steve Gutterman; editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Patrick Graham