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1 Nov, 2008 14:54

Oil and gas dominate Gaddafi’s visit to Moscow

Russia and Libya are set to strengthen ties in arms and energy. At a meeting with President Medvedev at the Kremlin, the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi identified the oil and gas industries as the top priorities for cooperation between the two countries.

Muammar Gaddafi arrived in Moscow with his famously large entourage. His tent has been pitched in the Kremlin’s park and his security includes female bodyguards. A fan of ceremonies, he laid flowers at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

The last time Gaddafi visited Moscow, in 1985, it was the capital of a totally different state. During the Cold War, Libya’s relations with the USSR were mainly based on the arms trade. This time, Gaddafi is seeking to change the focus of Libya's relationship with Russia.

“We consider that co-operation in the oil and gas field is currently a highly important issue, moreover that Russia and Libya have common approaches to the oil and gas policy,” Gaddafi said at his meeting with Medvedev.

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.

Gaddafi also said Russian companies have already begun working in various civil branches of the Libyan economy.

“Our interests in the military and political fields overlapped in the past. Unfortunately we didn’t have any mutual interests in the civil area. But now the door to co-operation on civil projects between our countries has been opened,” Gaddafi said.

The Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi is in Moscow for the first time in 23 years.

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

And as Libya might buy more than $US 2 billion worth of Russian weapons, Gaddafi's trip is also 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.

Muammar Gaddafi arrived in Russia on Halloween night. The question was whether he arrived with a treat or a trick. His previous meeting with the then Russian president, Vladimir Putin, in April, promised a breakthrough. Nevertheless, progress towards a new deal has so far been slow.

The Soviet Union hardly had any rivals in its trade links with Libya. But Russia has to hurry up as more and more countries are queuing up to work in the region. Although these days relations between Moscow and Tripoli have switched from ideology to economics, politics are still in focus.

“Muammar Gaddafi was always insisting on the thesis that the world must be multi-polar, that the US or any other group of countries do not have any rights to dominate the others,” Ruslan Pukhnov from the Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies told RT.
For more than a decade Libya was under UN sanctions as a state sponsoring terrorism. The sanctions were lifted in 2003 and a batch of world leaders has travelled to the country. Now, the former outcast state has become an international honey pot rich in oil and gas. And 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