Russia said it’s seeking to negotiate the exit from power of Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, for the first time supporting the goals of the NATO-led military campaign in Libya.
Qaddafi has forfeited his right to govern and Russia is using its contacts with the Libyan regime’s leadership to persuade him to step down, President Dmitry Medvedev said today in Deauville, France, after a Group of Eight summit.
“Qaddafi’s regime has lost its legitimacy and he must go,” Medvedev told reporters. Russia isn’t willing to grant refuge to the Libyan leader, “but such countries can be found.” He said Russia is sending an envoy, Mikhail Margelov, to the Libyan rebel stronghold of Benghazi, who also plans to meet with representatives of Qaddafi.
Russia abstained from the United Nations Security Council vote in March that authorized military intervention by the U.S. and its allies in Libya to protect civilians from attack by Qaddafi’s forces. Russia later accused the North Atlantic Treaty Organization of violating the resolution by backing anti-Qaddafi rebels and causing civilian casualties with its air campaign.
President Barack Obama told Medvedev during their meeting yesterday that Russia’s abstention at the UN was key to getting action on Libya, Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser, told reporters traveling with the U.S. leader to Poland. Medvedev told Obama that Russia would share information from its discussion with Qaddafi’s government and the Libyan opposition, Rhodes said.
“We are going to be in close touch with the Russians as they pursue their conversations with the Libyans,” Rhodes said
Allied forces have intensified their attacks on the Qaddafi regime this week. Before leaving France, Obama said he and French President Nicolas Sarkozy agreed at the G-8 summit to “finish the job” in Libya. Qaddafi is shuttling between hospitals in Tripoli to elude nighttime raids by NATO jets, a European government official said yesterday.
Sarkozy said Western powers are only willing to discuss the timing of Qaddafi’s departure. “There is no mediation possible with Qaddafi: his soldiers must go back to their barracks and he must go,” he told reporters in Deauville.
Russia hosted a Libyan rebel representative this week after holding a meeting in Moscow on May 17 with envoys from Qaddafi in a bid to negotiate a cease-fire in the North African country. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov held a phone conversation with his Libyan counterpart yesterday, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told reporters in Deauville.
“Russia understands that Qaddafi won’t survive and will be forced out at some point,” Irina Zvyagelskaya, a Middle East analyst at the Academy of Sciences in Moscow, said in a May 17 phone interview. “The result will be a new leadership that we will have to establish ties with, so Russia is being pragmatic as it wants to revive contracts and play an active role.”
Russian weapons exporters may lose contracts worth $4 billion, Sergei Chemezov, head of state-owned Russian Technologies Corp., said on March 3 after the UN imposed an arms embargo on Libya. Potential civilian contracts in Libya, including for the construction of a railroad network, are worth “billions of dollars,” Energy Minister Sergei Shmatko said on March 22.
Western countries asked Russia yesterday to help mediate in the Libyan conflict, said Natalia Timakova, Medvedev’s spokeswoman.
“This request was voiced by our partners at practically all the bilateral meetings,” Timakova told reporters at the summit late yesterday. Her comments came after Medvedev held talks with Obama, Sarkozy and U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron.