MOSCOW - Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday called the U.S.-led war against Iraq the most serious crisis since the end of the Cold War, and warned that it threatened global stability.
"For the first time since the end of the Cold War, the international community is confronting such a serious crisis," Putin said during a meeting with faction leaders from Russia's lower house of parliament, segments of which were aired on Russian television.
The war is "in danger of rocking the foundations of global stability and international law," Putin said.
"The only correct solution to the Iraqi problem is an immediate end to military activity in Iraq and resumption of a political settlement in the U.N. Security Council."
The Kremlin has strongly criticized the U.S. military action, but has insisted that its disagreement with Washington will not damage the ties the two countries have carefully constructed following the Sept. 11 attacks, when Russia became an enthusiastic member of the anti-terrorism coalition.
"The partnership character of (our) relations with America gives us a basis for continuing our open dialogue," Putin said, according to the Interfax news agency.
Russian officials have expressed concern that Russian interests and Russian companies, which have signed numerous contracts to develop Iraq's oil industry, will be pushed out by American companies in the aftermath of the U.S.-led war. Baghdad also owes Russia about US$8.5 billion in Soviet-era debt.
Russia "has never made its position on Iraq directly dependent on economic factors or economic advantages," Interfax quoted Putin as saying. "The economy is an important part of politics but if we make a mistake in the political assessment of the situation, we will in the end lose out also in the economic."
The war is hugely unpopular in Russia, and in a series of polls, Russians have spoken overwhelmingly in favor of an Iraqi victory. The lower house of parliament, the State Duma, has already postponed ratification of a Kremlin-supported U.S.-Russian arms control treaty because of the war.
Putin urged lawmakers to continue to act pragmatically and "leave emotions on the side" when dealing with the crisis.
Earlier Friday, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said during a meeting with Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri that the "main task now is stop this war that brings suffering to a peaceful population and causes victims and destruction."
During a meeting with Indian Foreign Secretary Kanwal Sibal, Ivanov urged the United States and Britain to heed international warnings of the "gravest humanitarian disaster in recent history" that may strike Iraq if the war isn't ended.
Also Friday, Russian Culture Minister Mikhail Shvydkoi sent a letter to the head of the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization saying the war was putting Iraq's cultural and historical treasures at risk of destruction.
The letter, publicized by the Foreign Ministry, suggested the creation of a monitoring group under UNESCO's aegis that would protect architectural monuments and other sites during armed conflicts.