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Russia, Belarus and Ukraine offer arms to Qaddafi

Posted by Kris Roman on November 6, 2008


RIA Novosti commentator Andrei Murtazin

Russia is unlikely to get what it wants from Libya.

Before Muammar Qaddafi came to Moscow, analysts thought he would sign military contracts worth between $2 billion and $4.5 billion with Russia. However, while the Kremlin staff was busy searching for a place to build a Bedouin tent for Qaddafi, the “son of the desert” was thinking about his bargaining tactic in Russia, Belarus and Ukraine.

Russians view the three countries as fraternal, but Qaddafi sees them as the “Slavic bazaar” where they compete against each other.

The colonel’s itinerary was carefully plotted, from Russia to Belarus and to Ukraine, because in Moscow the Libyan leader saw the full range of Russian military items for sale, such as the Ka-52 Alligator helicopter, the Su-35 multirole fighter, the T-90 tank, and the latest version of the S-300 air defense system.

Even the Russian army lacks most of these novel systems, which definitely are not cheap. Russia has other cheaper, simpler arms for sale. It inherited them from the Soviet Union, just as Belarus and Ukraine did.

I was a military translator in Libya in the mid-1980s and I know that the Libyan army had Soviet arms made in the 1960s and early 1970s. They proved highly effective during war games and as well as in wars. Qaddafi was fighting a war in Chad at that time, which Libya did not advertize.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko offered Qaddafi Soviet-made weapons.

Two factors – the price and the buyer’s feeling about the seller – are crucial at a bazaar where sellers offer similar goods. Qaddafi is an experienced politician with a personality comparable to those of Russia’s Vladimir Zhirinovsky and Belarusian President Lukashenko.

It is therefore not surprising that during their visit to Minsk the leaders of Russia and Belarus spoke about their countries’ similar positions and the need to build a multipolar world.

Muammar Qaddafi recalled that it was Belarus that “extended a hand of friendship” to Libya when international sanctions were imposed on it.

Qaddafi first met with Lukashenko in 2000, when the Belarusian president was in Libya on an official visit during which the two leaders created the groundwork for bilateral relations. Qaddafi told Lukashenko he was always welcome in Libya, and the Belarusian leader promised to come to Tripoli again.

The colonel knows Russian President Dmitry Medvedev very little, but Vladimir Putin, then Russian president, visited Libya in April 2008 to remove the main obstacle hindering the development of bilateral relations. He wrote off Libya’s $4.5 billion debt to the former Soviet Union in return for its pledge to sign new contracts with Russia.

In Moscow, Putin not only attended Medvedev’s talks with Qaddafi but also accompanied him to the concert of Mireille Mathieu in the Kremlin Palace where he introduced the high Libyan guest to the famous French singer in a surprise move.

Qaddafi was received in Kiev without much pomp, which was logical given the political situation in Ukraine. But President Yushchenko said at a news conference after their meeting that current bilateral military technical cooperation was not up to its potential.

Analysts are worried that no official statements on the signing of Russian-Libyan documents were made in Moscow, while Belarus has signed agreements. However, this does not mean that Medvedev, Putin, Lukashenko and Yushchenko have not agreed with Qaddafi on military matters. I rather think they have but decided not to comment on their achievements, for understandable reasons.

It is still not clear if Russia will have a naval base in Benghazi, Libya. According to the business daily Kommersant, Qaddafi discussed the issue with Medvedev.

A group of warships from Russia’s Northern Fleet led by the Pyotr Veliky missile cruiser recently called at Tripoli, and the Neustrashimy destroyer stopped at the port on its way to Somalia.

The newspaper writes that Qaddafi thinks Russia’s military presence would protect Libya from possible attacks by the United States, which is not willing to embrace the colonel despite numerous conciliation gestures.

Russia apparently has at least three advantages over Belarus and Ukraine.

First, it offers brand-new high-tech arms that are better than many foreign analogues.

Second, the three Slavic countries may agree what to sell to Qaddafi and at what price, despite the numerous political differences between them, especially between Russia and Ukraine over Ukrainian arms deliveries to Georgia.

And third, Russia may still decide to establish a naval base at Benghazi, because it will cost a lot and Libya needs the money. But can Russia do it in conditions of the global financial crisis, when its international reserves are decreasing by day and the once full flow of petrodollars is dwindling into a small creek?

Which of the three Slavic brothers will the Libyan leader choose? From whom will he buy more arms? We will know the answer only when more warships, aircraft and tanks marked “Made in USSR” are sent to Tripoli under the watchful eye of space-based monitoring systems.


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