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Russia seeks Libya mediator role

Russia toughened its opposition to Western military intervention in Libya this week as Prime Minister Vladimir Putin deployed his strongest criticism yet of NATO airstrikes in the country.

On Tuesday, speaking during a news conference in Copenhagen, Putin said the North African country was being illegally destroyed by "so-called civilised society" and that NATO was going beyond the UN mandate when it dropped guided bombs on embattled Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's compound in Tripoli. "What kind of no-fly zone is this if they are striking palaces every night?" Putin said.

"What do they need to bomb palaces for? To drive out the mice?"

Putin also suggested that Libya's oil resources could be "the main object of interest to those operating there."

Libyans should resolve the conflict "themselves, without any external help," Putin said, Interfax reported.

The premier's comments came after he earlier likened the UN Security Council resolution to enforce a no-fly zone in the country to a "call to a medieval crusade."

On Wednesday, this time in Swedish capital Stockholm, Putin kept up his barrage of criticism, saying that he was "dumbfounded" over how easily decisions were being made to use force against countries.

'Human rights'

Putin said "this happens despite human rights and humanity concerns which the civilised world is believed to advocate. Don't you think that there is a serious controversy between words and practice of international relations?" he said, adding that this "imbalance" should be eliminated.

Russia, one of the UN Security Council's permanent members, abstained on the no-fly zone vote in March. The unrest in the North African country, which began in mid-February, has already claimed thousands of lives, with Gaddafi's troops engaged in a bitter civil war with rebel forces.

Libya has asked Russia to assemble an urgent meeting of the UN Security Council. In a statement, Gaddafi's regime called on the Security Council to discuss the "excessive aggression of the colonialists and the crusaders who not only target civilians and Muammar Gaddafi but violate two of the Security Council's resolutions and agreements," RIA Novosti reported.

Political solution?

As the NATO airstrikes have not resulted in Gaddafi being forced from power, Russian experts said that attention was now switching to political, rather than military, solutions to the conflict.

"Neither side seems capable of winning, so it's slowly becoming a political issue how to solve the situation there," Fyodor Lukyanov, Russia in Global Affairs' editor-on-chief, told The Moscow News. "We should understand that political moves will be [tried] not only by the colonel, but by his children too, who seem to want to stay."

Over two months ago, the unrest in the Libyan city of Benghazi against the ruling dictatorship of Muammar Gaddafi led to a military conflict between the opposition and Gaddafi's troops. Human rights groups say more than 15,000 people have been killed since February, and over 30,000 injured.

Although Dmitry Medvedev has previously criticised Putin's use of the term "crusade" to describe the no-fly zone and Western airstrikes, during his recent visit to China the Russian president pushed the BRICS group of nations into calling for a peaceful resolution of the conflict.


Nicolai Petro, a Russia expert at the University of Rhode Island, said that Russia was trying to use the BRICS as an umbrella group to criticise the West.

"Russia is less interested in Libya per se, it will therefore not oppose the West individually, but it will certainly try to coordinate opposition among the BRICS, and support it is there is a consensus within that group," he said.

Differences within tandem

Russia's ruling tandem has appeared to disagree strongly over Libya, but after Medvedev's visit to China and Vladimir Putin's comments on NATO this week, the gap between the two leaders' positions may have narrowed.

Mark Galeotti, a Russia expert at New York University, said that Russia's main concern in the Middle East now is not to be seen as irrelevant.

"Washington, Paris and London don't seem to care about Moscow's concerns and in truth Russia has few policy options ­ this helps explain suggestions that Russia could have a role as a mediator," he said. "It is also indicative that none of the Western powers at this stage seem especially interested in mediation of any kind, but especially not one brokered by the Russians."

One reason for Russia's strong objections to NATO military intervention may be that it wants to salvage arms deals previously struck with Gaddafi, said Alexei Malashenko, an expert from Carnegie Moscow Centre.

"These are very important deals for many people and I don't think Russia will give up on this," he said.

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