The 3-day visit by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon to Moscow on Thursday assumes significance against the backdrop of the developments over Libya. He will be talking in his official capacity as UN SG with a permanent member of the security council but is practically undertaking this trip as a messenger from the western camp. Resolution 1973 is at the epicentre of a war of words between Moscow and Brussels. The open sparring at the informal NATO-Russia Council meeting in Brussels on Saturday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and NATO SG Anders Fogh Rasmussen giving diametrically opposite interpretations to R 1973 gives the impression that Moscow intends to dig in if the West broadens the scope of the UN mandate arbitrarily to include 'regime change' and deployment of ground troops on Libyan soil.
Plainly put, US and its European allies (primarily Britain and France) are coolly disregarding Moscow's protestations and doing things much the way they want and seem to estimate that Russia will eventually cool down and accept the fait accompli. One purpose of Ban's visit will be to check out what the temperature is like in Moscow. The Kremlin has announced that President Dmitry Medvedev will meet Ban on Friday. So far, Medvedev has stuck to his guns that R 1973 doesn't envisage military intervention or regime change. But is that the last word? It is hard to imagine that Moscow couldn't have anticipated with all the professionalism in international diplomacy at its command that such a flawed thing like R 1973 would be open to misinterpretation. Yet Russia acquiesced with its passage through the UN Security Council. So, what is Medvedev's Plan B?
Clearly, the West also needs more cooperation from Russia. A 'turning point' is coming with talk of a caesefire. If a deal for dispatch of Muammar Gaddafi into exile somewhere in the heart of Africa comes up, Russia would have an opinion. Again, is Gaddafi to be taken ultimately to the Hague to stand trial as a war criminal? The ball has been set rolling in the International Court of Justice [ICJ]. But ICJ comes under the purview of the UN security council and Russia has a big say. Also, if deployment of western troops in Libya becomes necessary at some point to arrest the sheer slide to anarchy, fresh UN security council mandates might be needed.
So, Ban will try to check out what mood is prevailing in Moscow beneath the heavy fog of rhetoric. And he will faithfully report back to Washington and maybe US president Barack Obama can make another phone call to the Kremlin and once again invoke the spirit of the "reset" in US-Russia ties.
It needs some gumption for Obama to do that after pointedly snubbing Medvedev and his BRICS partners over LIbya. At its summit meeting in China last Thursday, the BRICS adopted a stance on Libya critical of the western intervention in Libya. But on the very same day, Obama joined hands with David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy to pen an article in New York Times virtually rubbishing the stance taken by BRICS (all 5 of whom are represented in the UN Security Council). The missile was aimed at Russia and China and it would have hit the target.
Meanwhile, Medvedev expressed misgivings also about the UN force's involvement in the messy transfer of power in Cote d'Ivoire. Nothing like this free-for-all has ever happened before as is happening under Ban's stewardship. Much can be attributed to Ban's messianic mission to secure a second term as SG. Medvedev will expect Ban to give some plausible explanations.