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Is Russia out of Libya?

Russia maintained its negative stance on the NATO-led military campaign in Libya on Monday even as rebel forces entered Tripoli and longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi may finally be on his way out.

Konstantin Kosachyov, chairman of the State Duma's international affairs committee, called NATO's airstrikes in Sunday night's assault on Tripoli "regrettable" and said they would "cast doubts on the legitimacy of current and future events in the country," Interfax reported.

After initially allowing the UN resolution in favor of military intervention in Libya to pass, Russia has used the campaign as a means to attack the West, while building up its own position as a neutral mediator in the Middle East.

But now, as rebel forces establish a hold on increasingly bigger chunks of Tripoli and world leaders herald a "new beginning for Libya," Russia may find itself left in the dark as European countries move in to claim the trade links with Tripoli they have earned through months of fighting.

Russia, which has been steadily building up ties in the oil- and gasrich Middle East, is likely to want a slice of the action. But a Libyan rebel oil firm said Monday that while Western energy firms from countries such as Italy, France and the United States were welcome in the post-Gaddafi Libya, Russia, China and Brazil might pay the price for their countries' lack of support for the opposition.

"We may have some political issues with Russia, China and Brazil," Abdeljalil Mayouf, a spokesman for Libyan rebel oil firm AGOCO, was quoted as saying by Reuters.

Russian oil firms Gazprom Neft and Tatneft had large-scale projects in Libya under Gaddafi, as did Chinese and Brazilian companies.

Yevgeny Satanovsky, who heads the Moscow Institute for the Middle East, said Russia's main priority was the fastest possible normalization of the situation in Libya.

"Russia will work with any kind of Libya ­ with Gaddafi, or with his opponents," Satanovsky said. "If they are not against Russia and do not try to support radical Islamists and terrorists on Russian territory, why shouldn't we work with them?"

A key issue for Russia is the effect of the Libyan situation on global oil prices. Civil war in the country, which holds Africa's largest crude oil reserves, has led to increased oil exports from Russia at sky-high prices and prevented prices from tumbling in the recent global economic dip.

"The ending of the conflict in Libya puts a big question mark on where oil might trade over the winter, depending on how quickly Libyan oil comes back onto the market," said Chris Weafer, chief strategist at Moscow investment bank Troika Dialog. "This will have a direct impact on Russia's fiscal and budget situation."

Weafer said that since Libya's oil facilities have not been badly damaged in the conflict, as Iraq's were in the 2003 U.S.-led invasion there, production and exports should be able to resume relatively quickly, if the country is able to reestablish its administrative infrastructure.

Trade between Russia and Libya is relatively low, although there had been discussions between the two countries before the conflict began on increasing cooperation in nuclear energy and oil pipelines.

"Assuming that the oil revenues are rebuilt, Libya under a new government should be a much better place for anybody to do business than it was under Gaddafi," Weafer said. "I would expect Libya to open up to a number of potential partners and I would expect Russia to be among the first of those in calling to do business."


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