Monday, March 21, 2011

Russia blows hot and cold on Libya

Russian PM Vladimir Putin has come down heavily on the western sir strikes on Libya. "The Security Council resolution [1973] is deficient and flawed; it allows everything and is reminiscent of a medieval call for a crusade. It effectively allows intervention in a sovereign state." He added, "This U.S. policy is becoming a stable trend," recalling the U.S. air strikes on Belgrade under Bill Clinton and Afghanistan and Iraq under the two Bush administrations. "Now it's Libya's turn - under the pretext of protecting civilians. Where is the logic and conscience? There is neither. The ongoing events in Libya confirm that Russia is right to strengthen her defense capabilities."
The metaphor of the Crusades and the West's dismantling of the former state of Yugoslavia cannot be accidental. FM Sergey Lavrov also phoned Arab League SG Amr Moussa. According to Russian media, Lavrov told Moussa: "We strictly oppose using military force against civilians, this is why Russia joined the international call to end violence against civilians [in Libya]. Nobody could now predict the consequences of the situation in Libya. We hope they will be minimal and will not damage the territorial integrity of Libya and the whole region.” Lavrov seemed to imply that the western intervention in Libya leading to a civil war or the country's disintegration may have serious consequences for several African countries that are similarly placed in terms of the fragility of their post-colonial nationhood. Russian experts have been voicing apprehension in this direction.
However, on a parallel track, Russian president Dmitry Medvedev today appointed a new special representative on ties with African countries. Curiously, his choice fell on the well-known politician Mikhail Margelov who is a quintessential 'insider' (although with a past as a liberal-minded aide to Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky) and he currently heads the foreign affairs committee of the Russian Duma's upper house. Although a specialist on Africa by academic background, his current forte is Russia's relations with the West and he comes out as an ardent enthusiast of the US-Russia reset.
Margelov uses very colourful language; two weeks ago he called Muammad Qaddafi a "demoniac colonel" whose regime is doomed. "Gaddafi's regime is agonizing. It is dead-trapped, as hunters say. Not only Libyans are fed up with Gaddafi, but also the international community." Margelov hoped that the blood of those killed in Libya will put an end to the "eerie list of crimes by the demoniac colonel."
So, Medvedev's decision is quite interesting. I think one major consideration for the Kremlin must have been that the Americans will feel comfortable with Margelov. Equally, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates just arrived in Russia on a 3-day visit. The fact that Gates got away from US when military operations in Libya have just begun shows that Washington prioritises Russian cooperation, Moscow's rhetoric notwithstanding. En route to Russia, Gates appreciated Russia's abstention at the UN SC on Friday and hoped that more such cooperation would be forthcoming. He said Libya is on his agenda of talks in Moscow.
On the whole, Russian line on Libya is zigzagging. Let us hope its stabilizes sometime soon.

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