Russia’s turnabout on Libya arouses doubts, welcome

28 May 2011 — Xinhua

TRIPOLI/MOSCOW, May 28 (Xinhua) — Russia’s change of its stance on the chronic Libyan crisis raised doubts from the Libyan government, but was applauded by the Libyan opposition.

Russia, which had criticized the NATO-led air strikes on Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s forces, surprisingly toughened its stance on Libya during the just wrapped-up G8 summit held in France’s seaside resort of Deauville.

The summit from Thursday to Friday, attended by eight world powers including Russia and the United States, ended with a unanimously-adopted declaration.

It said ‘Gaddafi and the Libyan government have failed to fulfill their responsibility to protect the Libyan population and have lost all legitimacy.’ ‘He (Gaddafi) must go,’ it stressed.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Friday called on Gaddafi to give up power and said Russia would not offer shelter to him.

‘The world community no longer sees him as the Libyan leader,’ he said.

‘If you saw the (G8) declaration, it says that Gaddafi’s regime has lost its legitimacy. He must go,’ Medvedev said, ‘It was adopted unanimously.’

While Western countries would use force to overthrow Gaddafi, Russia said it still favors Gaddafi’s decent departure through negotiations.

Medvedev had sent an envoy to the rebel bastion of Benghazi to seek solutions to the conflict.

Disturbed by Russia’s change of position, Libyan Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Kaim Friday said the Libyan government was in contact with the Russian side to better understand its position.

Russia had been critical of the NATO-led air raids, which started over two months ago, saying air strikes went beyond the UN Security Council resolution, which mandated a no-fly zone over the North African country.

‘Russia is one of the traditional friends of Libya,’ Kaim said. ‘We don’t think Russia will sway its position to side with NATO.’

Kaim said the Libyan government wasn’t concerned about the events at the G8 meeting. It only supports the proposals of the African Union (AU), and would never join discussions of plans that attempt to marginalize AU proposals, he added.

‘Any decision taken about the political future of Libya belongs to the Libyans, no one else,’ Kaim said.

In contrast to the Libyan government’s confusion, Chairman of the Libyan opposition’s National Transitional Council (CNT) Mustafa Abdel Jalil on Saturday hailed Russia’s latest position.

‘We welcome the position shown by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev,’ Jalil said in Benghazi.

‘We believe the role of Russia in international affairs, but these relations must take place in a mutual interest and mutual respect,’ Jalil added.

Russia’s change of stance on Libya may come as a surprise, but recent developments seemed to suggest it is by no means impromptu.

On May 23, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met an envoy of the Libyan opposition in Moscow, during which they discussed ways to realize a ceasefire in Libya.

There were other signs that Russia began to put stakes on the Libyan opposition to hedge risks to its interests, as NATO escalated its raids on Gaddafi’s government with an explicit determination to force him out.

Russian media reports said in order to win Russia’s support on the Libya issue, the West offered new incentives during the G8 summit, among which was the promise to facilitate Russia’s entry into the World Trade Organization by the end of this year.

In a related development, Medvedev and his French counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy on Thursday reached a long-awaited agreement on a Russian purchase of four French-made Mistral class amphibious assault ships.

The deal, Moscow’s first major foreign arms purchase since the collapse of the Soviet Union, was driven by its need to modernize its ageing armed forces, but it had been criticized by some of France’s NATO allies.

Russian media said the previous guess is the agreement was still one or two years away, but it was inked much quicker than expected.

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