Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's show of support for Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Wednesday took Foreign Ministry officials aback.

Lieberman, who met with Putin in Moscow, said the recent elections in Russia were fair, free and democratic, the Russian news agency Itar-Tass reported.

Senior Foreign Ministry officials told Haaretz yesterday that this statement was "disgraceful."

Itar-Tass, reporting on the televised Lieberman-Putin meeting, quoted the foreign minister as describing a briefing he had received from the "small but very professional" delegation of Israeli election observers. "Their answer was quite clear: The elections were absolutely fair, free and democratic. This is my opinion because I rely on our observers."

"Lieberman knows very well how the elections in Russia were held and the things he said yesterday were shameful," a senior Foreign Ministry official said.

Senior ministry officials said the Israeli embassy in Moscow had sent numerous reports in the past few days refuting Lieberman's statement. "The embassy reported the public protest following the elections and the demonstration in Moscow, so it is not clear why Lieberman decided that the elections were held in such an orderly, clean way," one said. "His statement is most inexplicable."

Lieberman's remarks also provoked a rare backlash in Israel's Russian-language media, normally one of his bastions of support. Igor Levin, presenter of Channel 9 television's news program, for instance, termed Lieberman's statment "a brazen, crude lie," adding that Russian-language Internet sites had dubbed Lieberman a "national embarrassment."