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Gone Are the Days: With Gaddafi Dead and Libya Declared "Liberated," How Will Russia Approach a New Libya?

Crowd of Libyan Protesters with Flag
The UN-sanctioned NATO operations in Libya, which culminated last week with the death of strongman Muammar Gaddafi, have long reflected growing inconsistencies in Russian policy toward the country. Now that Gaddafi's death has presented a clear opportunity for the Libyan provisional government to start anew, what role will Russia play in the road ahead? Experts say that while the future remains uncertain, Russia is almost guaranteed to play a lesser role than before. One of the first post-Gaddafi announcements came when Russia demanded an inquiry into the dictator's death, which remains mired in uncertainty and conflicting accounts. Some reports have indicated that NATO bombing raids may have forced Gaddafi and some of his loyalists to seek refuge in the drainage pipe in Sirte, where he was later captured by rebels and subsequently shot several times. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov expressed dismay over the circumstances of Gaddafi's death shortly after the Libyan dictator was reported killed, while Western leaders tacitly approved of his death. "The footage we saw on television shows that Muammar Gaddafi was captured while he was wounded," Lavrov said in an interview with Russian media. "And then, as a prisoner, his life was taken." Meanwhile, Russian ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, pushed for an immediate reversal of the UN security resolution ordering a no-fly-zone over Libya earlier this year.

Moscow has taken a curious and, at times, ambivalent position toward the situation in Libya since the movement against Gaddafi's regime began in February. Having previously enjoyed tight relations with Gaddafi, Russia had been reluctant to denounce the Libyan leader and only recognized the National Transition Council (NTC) ­ the provisional government ­ on September 1, months after it had been established. The conflict even gave way to a rare split in Russia's ruling tandem in April, after President Dmitry Medvedev, who sided with Western powers at a Group of Eight (G8) summit in urging Gaddafi to give up the fight, chided Prime Minister Vladimir Putin for likening the UN's resolution to "medieval calls for crusades." Russia, however, had earlier abstained from voting on the resolution altogether.

The crux of Russian-Libyan relations during the Gaddafi era lay in a slew of lucrative contracts in several sectors. Yet many of those contracts, which had been agreed between Russian dignitaries and Gaddafi himself, had been flung into uncertainty upon the outbreak of the civil war. And now, after the NTC officially declared Libya "liberated" on Sunday, Russia will be forced to construct entirely new relations with a government it's not sure it can work with. What's more, Russian media estimated earlier that Russia could lose up to $10 billion in potential business deals.

Experts caution that the losses constitute the value of potential contracts, and not actual investments. Still, however, the crumbling of Gaddafi's highly personalized rule, as well as the potential geopolitical orientations of the new government, may knock out Russian business ventures from future competition, according to Pavel Baev, a research professor at the Peace Research Institute in Oslo. "Everything was based on Gaddafi's preferences, on his very particular balancing game," said Baev. "Who to favor, how to play one against another ­ that's all over."

Baev added that Russian-Libyan relations are likely to take a backseat because of two main factors: a decreased need, on Russia's part, for Libyan oil and gas (which will be far more enticing for Western countries); and the likely decrease in defense spending toward Russian arms on the provisional government's part. Whereas previously Russia based its relations upon Gaddafi's preferential treatment toward certain spheres of Russian commerce, particularly energy and defense, the impetus for close contact has now been largely erased. "There is interest in establishing relations now that it's all over, but Russia probably doesn't cherish any plans about the arms markets or the visit of ships to Libyan ports," said Baev.

Other experts agree that Russian privileges are at stake, noting that the provisional government is far more likely to grant new contracts and opportunities to the states that played key roles in toppling the Gaddafi regime. "At best, Western companies will invite Russian companies in as partners," Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of Russia in Global Affairs, told Kommersant. "The British, the French, and the Italians did not risk their money, reputation, etc. to share the Libyan market with companies from countries who did not take part in the operation."

So far, Putin seems to have remained quiet on Gaddafi's death, while Medvedev simply expressed hope at a recent press conference that Libya will turn into a "modern political country." The Duma failed to issue a statement of sympathy toward the Libyan population, Kommersant reported, with United Russia leading the charge in taking a middle ground between condemning the West's methods and Gadaffi's crimes against his own people. While party Deputy Sergei Markov denounced the NATO operation, he also cautioned against taking a stronger stance. "At the same time, we cannot ignore the fact that Muammar Gaddafi was responsible for the bombing of an airliner and other acts of terrorism," he told Kommersant FM.

Other Russian politicians have also weighed in on the matter, though devoid of subtlety or the mixed messages of the Kremlin's rhetoric. Communist Party Head Gennady Zyuganov called the NATO operation "shameful," while Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky denounced Gaddafi's killing as "barbarism," reported the Moscow Times. Moreover, Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov likened the Libyan leader's death to the loss of "a warrior, leader and patriot of his country," according to a press release on his Web site.

Russia, Middle East, North Africa, Libya - Russian News - Russia - Johnson's Russia List

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