Russian President Vladimir Putin has strongly criticized the U.S. missile strike in Iraq and called for the earliest possible end to military operations.
During a high-level meeting at the Kremlin, President Putin called the missile attack on targets in Baghdad a "big political mistake," and said military action must be brought to a swift end.
President Putin told senior ministers that military action could in no way be justified. He also challenged the United States to respond to what he said was the still unanswered question: What weapons of mass destruction does Iraq have?
For months, President Putin has vowed that Russia would do all it could to stop war against Iraq. He said Russia would work to see that another diplomatic effort is made to bring an end to the Iraqi crisis, perhaps by returning the issue to the U.N. Security Council.
President Putin said international law must not be allowed to be replaced by what he called "the law of the fist." If that happens, he said the principle of international sovereignty will be at risk.
Former Russian Present Boris Yeltsin, along with Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union, also criticized the U.S. missile strikes.
The attacks started as Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov was flying back to Russia from a U.N. Security Council meeting in New York aimed at preventing war in Iraq. Mr. Ivanov went directly to the Kremlin for meetings on the crisis.
Opening the meeting, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said Russia "regrets" that the stand-off over Iraq is being resolved by force. He said officials in Moscow did everything in their power to avert war. But now that it has started, Mr. Kasyanov said, Russia stands ready to aid any Iraqi citizens who may suffer.
Russia has significant economic interests in Iraq, and officials in Moscow have said they hope to have good relations with any future government in Iraq.
At the same time, President Putin has said he hopes to keep the U.S.-Russian relationship on track, despite his strong feelings against U.S. action in Iraq.