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31 Oct, 2008 17:07

Gaddafi in Moscow to buy arms

The Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi is in Moscow for the first time in 23 years. He’s holding talks with President Dmitry Medvedev on arms and energy. The Russian President says he expects the visit to be fruitful.

Since Vladimir Putin first visited the country last April, Libya’s flamboyant leader has been the focus of attention.

As Libya might buy more than $US 2 billion worth of Russian weapons, Gaddafi's trip is seen as an opportunity to woo him away from Western companies who've been lobbying hard for lucrative contracts since the UN lifted sanctions in 2003.

Journalist Vladislav Shurygin, the Deputy Editor of “Zavtra” newspaper, met Gaddafi a year ago and says he’s not what you might think.

“When he entered, he looked slow and frail. But once he started talking, it became clear that he’s got a strong intellect and excellent memory,” he said.

True to his Bedouin roots Gaddafi receives fellow heads of state by the fire and in a tent that even goes with him on foreign trips. Known for his gun-carrying female bodyguards, he has eccentric dress-sense with a trademark style of crisp uniforms, Arab clothing and his own take on Western suits.

Analysts say that the current visit of the Libyan leader is about more than just building ties with Russia. It’s also a return of the former outcast to the international mainstream.

Once dubbed the “mad dog” by President Reagan over his backing of terrorist movements, now Gaddafi’s political rehabilitation sees world leaders queuing to do business in the oil-rich country.

During Putin’s visit Russia wrote off Libya’s debt of more than $US 4 billion, which dated back to Soviet times in exchange for big energy and railway construction deals. Business still remains high on the agenda.

Russian natural gas producer Gazprom and the oil company Tatneft have already obtained licences to develop six oil and gas deposits in Libya. In July Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller visited Tripoli to discuss opportunities for partnership.

“Cooperation is likely to go on in the same areas as during the Soviet times: first of all, in the military sphere, then transport, and oil and gas,” said Oleg Peresypkin, Ambassador to Libya 1984-86.

It seems that now after the Soviet era’s love affair, Moscow and Tripoli may enjoy a marriage of convenience to take them back to the future.

Related links

Paving the way for the Libyan leader

Russian oil monopoly executive freed in Libya 

Gazprom to snap up all Libya’s oil and gas

Russia writes off Libya’s debt