Libyan ruler Muammar Qaddafi was bursting with new ideas in his address at a dinner welcoming Russian president Vladimir Putin at the presidential tent outside Tripoli on April 16. First, he delivered the most anti-American speech heard from an Arab leader in recent years. It contained scarcely veiled hints of the Libyan ruler’s revived nuclear ambitions, five years after he dramatically liquidated his weapons of mass destruction as a concession to the Bush administration for the sake of acceptance by the West.
The occasion is described by DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Middle East sources as marking a shift in geopolitical gravity, a demonstration of how the Iraq War and Washington’s failure to put a spoke in Iran’s nuclear weapons program are draining America’s political, strategic and economic strength in the Middle East and northern Africa arenas.
The Libyan ruler placed great emphasis on the need to build a new center of power to stand up to the United States. We see, he said, how important it is to be like Russia, because the only way to contain America’s expansionist urge for hegemony is nuclear power. Without a nuclear Russia, the world would have bee plunged in World War III before now. These days, oil and gas resources do not buy world influence without the possession of nuclear weapons.
Qaddafi went on to ask the Russian president to join him in a Russian-Libyan initiative to annul the veto power held by the five permanent UN Security Council members and transfer executive and decision-making authority to the General Assembly.
In is view, the Middle East is in the grip of a feverish arms race, each state rushing headlong to develop its own nuclear weapons program and buy the best and most advanced weapons systems on the market.
Putin countered by proposing that Moscow and Tripoli go straight into talks for a strategic pact between the two countries, covering political, military and economic cooperation. Soviet Russia was bound by similar pacts in the 1980s to Libya, Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Algeria. Those alliances were the bulwark for the communist empire’s anti-American might in the Cold War years.
Russian experts will overhaul, re-equip Libya’s armed forces
Qaddafi accepted the challenge. The next day, Putin agreed to forgive Libya its old Soviet- era debt of $4.5 billion owed for 1980s arms purchases, in return for the Libyan ruler’s consent in principle to contracting Russian military experts and arms industrialists to execute the entire overhaul and modernization of the Libyan armed forces weaponry, intelligence, communications and electronics systems.
They agreed that this project would entail the purchase of advanced Russian fighters and bombers, warships and submarines, and sets of military satellites and sophisticated drones.
Russia hopes to sell Libya 12 of the latest Su-35 (or Su-30MK2) multi-role fighters; 12 MiG-29 SMT fighters; S-300 PMU-2 long-range surface-to-air missiles, Tor-M2E short-range SAM missiles, military helicopters, submarines, warships and army equipment.
As part of the sales package, Russia will also supply the Libyan military with spare parts and maintenance for the Soviet-made equipment still in its inventory.
The two leaders also came to terms on certain energy issues:
1. Qaddafi bought Putin’s idea for an international cartel for liquefied natural gas to be established on the same lines as the oil cartel – OPEC. The anti-US Iran and Venezuela are reported to have signed off on this idea.
2. Cooperation in the field of nuclear energy was also discussed.
3. Russia’s Gazprom and Libya’s National Oil Corporation agreed to form a joint company for all aspects of oil and gas exploration and sale.
4. They also agreed to launch negotiations for cutting the Russian Gazprom monopoly into Libyan gas projects and the construction of a gas pipeline from Libya to Italy.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Moscow sources report that this line would connect with the Russian-controlled pipeline network supplying West Europe.
Last week’s election of Silvio Berlusconi, a close friend of Putin, for his third term as Italian prime minister, brings this project strides forward to fruition.
5. The skeleton of three-way partnership ventures between Russia, Libya and Italy was in place before Putin’s trip to Tripoli. Bent on strengthening its presence in North Africa , Gazprom acquired three projects there after its strategic partner, the Italian energy company Eni, agreed to trade some of its Libyan gas assets in the Russian company’s favor. In Libya, Eni controls 50 percent of the Green Stream gas pipeline linking Libyan fields to Sicily.
6. A $3.5 billion contract was signed for the state Russian Railways to build a 500-kilometer rail line in Libya linking the cities of Sirte and Benghazi.