x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Tripoli and Moscow could revive ties

Arms purchases and nuclear energy are on the cards for the Libyan leader's first visit to Russia since 1985.

The Russian president Dmitry Medvedev, right, speaks with Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, left, during their meeting in Gorki residence outside Moscow, Russia, October 31 2008.
The Russian president Dmitry Medvedev, right, speaks with Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, left, during their meeting in Gorki residence outside Moscow, Russia, October 31 2008.

The Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi met the Russian president Dmitry Medvedev yesterday on his first visit to Russia since 1985, a trip that could revive military ties between Tripoli and Moscow. "I hope your visit will be productive... Our countries have had friendly relations for decades," said Mr Medvedev prior to dinner with his guest at his country residence outside Moscow. Mr Kadhafi, at his turn, responded: "I hope this visit will be fruitful for our relations."

Arms purchases and nuclear energy are on the cards for Mr Kadhafi's three-day visit. Libya might also offer to host a Russian naval base at the Mediterranean port of Benghazi, the Russian newspaper Kommersant reported. "The Russian military presence will be a guarantee of non-aggression against Libya from the United States," it said. Mr Kadhafi is expected to meet the Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin today.

One topic of this weekend's talks would be "military-technical co-operation," a Kremlin official said ahead of Mr Kadhafi's visit, using a term that typically describes arms purchases. Tripoli bought many of its arms from Moscow during the Cold War, which was inching closer to its climax when Mr Kadhafi last visited 23 years ago. Talks could also touch on "the peaceful atom," the Kremlin official said on condition of anonymity, following previous reports that Russia was in talks about building a nuclear power plant in Libya.

For Russia, a Mediterranean naval base would cement its military comeback after it dispatched a flotilla of warships in a show of might last month. The ships stopped in Tripoli this month and are due to continue to Venezuela. Libya could agree to buy more than US$2 billion (Dh7.35 billion) of Russian arms this weekend, the Interfax news agency reported yesterday, citing a source in the Russian defence industry.

It was interested in S-300 and Tor-M1 surface-to-air missile systems, Su-30 and MiG-29 fighter jets and T-90 battle tanks, the source said. According to Libyan sources in Moscow, Mr Kadhafi would visit Ukraine and Belarus after his visit to Russia. Relations have warmed significantly this year between Russia and Libya, which began to shed its pariah status in 2003 when it renounced weapons of mass destruction and took responsibility for the December 1988 bombing of a New York-bound Pan Am airliner over Lockerbie, Scotland, that killed 270 people.

The Libyan leader has even been allowed to pitch his traditional Bedouin tent inside the Kremlin during the official visit. During a trip to France in December 2007, he set it up in the gardens of the Hotel Marigny, a 19th-century mansion next to the Elysee Palace used as an official guesthouse on state visits. On Thursday, the Russian foreign ministry said the countries shared a "common position" on the importance of a "multipolar world".

In April, during a visit to Tripoli by Mr Putin, who was then Russia's president, Moscow agreed to cancel billions of dollars of Libyan Soviet-era debt in exchange for big contracts with Russian companies. The deals included a co-operation agreement between Russian gas giant Gazprom and Libya's national energy company, as well as a $2.8 billion contract for Russia's rail monopoly to build a railway line in Libya.

But Mr Kadhafi has dragged his feet on implementing the deals and he angered Moscow by refusing to bring his energy-rich country into a "gas Opec" with Russia and Qatar, Kommersant said yesterday. *AFP