* Russia says protecting civilians is sole aim
* Lavrov accuses coalition of intervention in civil war
* Moscow worried about civilian casualties
(Adds French response, more quotes, background)
By Steve Gutterman
MOSCOW, March 28 (Reuters) - Russia said on Monday attacks on forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi amounted to intervention in a civil war and were not backed by the U.N. resolution authorising no-fly zones.
In the latest Russian criticism of military action by the Western-led coalition, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the resolution passed by the U.N. Security Council on March 17 had the sole aim of protecting Libyan civilians.
“And yet there are reports — and nobody denies them — of coalition strikes on columns of Gaddafi’s forces, reports about support for actions by the armed insurgents,” Lavrov said. “There are clear contradictions here.”
“We consider that intervention by the coalition in what is essentially an internal civil war is not sanctioned by the U.N. Security Council resolution,” Lavrov said when asked about Libya at a news conference with the Kyrgyz foreign minister.
Russia has veto power as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council but chose not to block the resolution, which authorised “all necessary measures to enforce compliance” with no-fly zones.
However, Russian leaders have expressed concern that the resolution gave coalition forces too much leeway and the intervention was causing civilian deaths. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin compared the resolution to “medieval calls for crusades”.
Lavrov did not say whether Russia would make any effort to restrict operations by the coalition, which is now led by NATO.
In Paris, a French Foreign Ministry spokesman said “the coalition of participating countries is strictly complying with the terms” of the resolution and the U.N. secretary-general was regularly informed of the measures being taken.
Lavrov’s remarks, hours before U.S. President Barack Obama was expected to define the mission’s purpose and scope in an address, suggested Russia could step up criticism if the coalition took steps Moscow believed went further beyond its mandate.
In Libya, rebels emboldened by Western-led air strikes against Gaddafi’s forces pushed west along the Mediterranean coast to retake a series of towns.
Obama’s administration has praised Russia for allowing the resolution to go through but has clashed with the Kremlin over the subject of civilian casualties.
In Moscow last week, U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates said some Russians seemed to take what he termed Gaddafi’s “lies” about civilian casualties at face value.
Lavrov reiterated Russia’s concern about reports of civilian casualties, which he said had not yet been confirmed, and indicated Russia wanted U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s special envoy Abdelilah Al-Khatib to look into them.
Lavrov said Russia’s concerns about the broad authority granted to foreign powers enforcing the no-fly zone were among the reasons it abstained in the Security Council vote. (Editing by Andrew Dobbie)