Why Did Moscow Spurn His Offer of a Libyan Base?
Libyan ruler Muammar Qaddafi’s legendary panache did not cut much ice with the hardheaded men ruling the Kremlin. DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military sources report that President Dmitiry Medvedev and prime minister Vladimir Putin gave him very little leeway in their three days of talks in Moscow (Nov. 1-3).
1. The Libyan ruler found his visit had started on the wrong foot because of the word he had put out in advance to the Russian and Western media that his talks in Moscow would focus on establishing a Mediterranean base for the Russian navy at the Libyan port of Benghazi.
Our sources disclose that Qaddafi found that his hosts had no intention of being maneuvered in that direction; they had prior demands. By the time he took off from Moscow for Belorussia and the Ukraine to negotiate more arms deals, he had been given to understand that Benghazi was a non-starter.
Western intelligence sources told DEBKA-Net-Weekly that a Libyan port was never on Moscow’s cards, certainly not as a quid pro quo for other business. Medvedev and Putin never dreamed of placing the grand design for their navy’s Mediterranean expansion in the hands of the notoriously unpredictable Qaddafi. They were quite satisfied with their choice of the Syrian port of Tartus.
2. Russia’s prior demands relate to Libya’s massive $6 billion debt for arms deals with Soviet Russia. Eight months ago, Putin was in Tripoli with an offer to write off $4.5 billion of this debt in return for economic contracts for Russian companies which they signed. The most important was a 55-kilometer rail link between Surt and Benghazi, a $2.9 billion project awarded to a Russian rail monopoly.
Since then, Libyan officials have been procrastinating on implementation, claiming government ministers have not yet signed the plans and other pretexts.
The Russians do not believe a word, certain that Qaddafi himself has put a spanner in the works.
Not an ally but a competitor
They were also offended by the Libyan ruler’s scornful dismissal of Putin’s idea for the world’s three biggest gas-producing nations, Russia, Libya and Iran, to set up an international cartel on the model of the OPEC cartel for oil producers. His attitude convinced them that the Libyan ruler did not count as a potential strategic partner but rather a competitor for the European energy market.
The Russians were chagrined enough by Qaddafi’s behavior to refrain from comment on their nuclear cooperation accord. The customary joint communique was missing. It was left to the Libyans to announce that the deal covered the design and construction of reactors, the supply of nuclear fuel, nuclear applications in medicine and the treatment of waste materials. When asked, the Russian government spokesman actually denied that Qaddafi and Putin had signed any such document.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military sources disclose that the arms deals they signed were impressive.
They included 24 MiG-29 SMT fighter jets (known in the West as Fulcrum), 30 Su-30 MK warplanes, 6 Yak-130 combat trainers, 50 MI17 multirole helicopters, MI35 all-weather combat helicopters, 50 T-90S battle tanks and a 363 class assault submarine.
The MiG-29 SMT is an upgraded modification of the MiG-29 multi-task front-line fighter. Integrated fuel tanks and an in-flight refueling system give the plane long-flight range. Compared with the MiG 29 SD, the upgraded version has a longer engine and design service life.
The SMT is fitted with Zhuk radar with air-to-ground modes. It is able to delivery guided munitions.
No more tabs: honor contracts
The SU-30 MK can carry double the armaments of the Su-27, the latest Russian air-to-air missiles, including the medium-range R-27 group, the short range R-73 and the new medium-range R-77 AMRAAM-ski. The Sukhoi-30 can stay airborne for more than 3,000 kilometers which makes it suitable for patrolling offshore installations without frequent refueling.
Libya needs these aircraft to protect its refineries and planned offshore drillings.
The Yak-130 combat trainer is designed for basic and advanced flight training adapted to the latest world market trends. It can also undertake operational missions in local conflicts and counter-terror operations.
The MI17 is a multi-role helicopter useful for resupplying commando forces in the field. Heavily armed with rockets, missiles and guns, it excels in air strikes against infantry forces at their point of penetration and is valuable for reinforcing units engaged in combat and disrupting counter-attacks. The MI17’s features include attack, direct air support, electronic warfare and airborne early warning.
The MI35 combat-transport helicopter and the KA 52 (NATO-designated Alligator) multi-role all-weather combat helicopter.
The T-90 S battle tank has features typical of other Russian tanks: light weight, small silhouette, powerful weaponry and high mobility. When fully armed with ordnance and its three-man crew, the tank weights 46.5 tons.
If Qaddafi thought he could get away with partially paying for this hardware with facilities for the Russian navy in Benghazi, Medvedev and Putin soon put him right. He will also find he has to meet his contractual commitments for awarding commercial projects to Russian firms and forget about running up tabs with the tough-minded Kremlin.