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Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Libya offers Moscow a port, strategic alliance

MOSCOW — Libya has offered Russia a military presence in North Africa as part of a defense alliance that would offer security against the United States.

Russian diplomatic and industry sources said Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi has offered a strategic alliance with Moscow as part of a drive toward military modernization. The sources said Gadhafi, who began a three-day visit on Oct. 31, wants a Russian military presence in the North African state.

[On Nov. 1, Libya and Russia signed a nuclear cooperation accord that could pave the way for the construction of a reactor in the North African state, Middle East Newsline reported. Officials said the cooperation would be limited to civilian nuclear programs.]

"Libya is ready to host a Russian naval military base," a Russian official was quoted by the Moscow-based Kommersant business daily as saying.

"The Russian military presence will be a guarantee of non-aggression against Libya from the United States, which is not in a hurry to embrace Gadhafi despite gestures of reconciliation."

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"A cooperation agreement was signed in the area of the peaceful use of civilian nuclear, particularly in the design and construction of reactors and the supply of nuclear fuel," Libyan Foreign Minister Abdul Rahman Shalgham said.

The Russian sources said Libya was planning to purchase at least $2.5 billion worth of military platforms and weapons from Moscow. The sources said the platforms would include the S-300PMU2 air and missile defense system, the Su-30MKI fighter-jet, Type 20382 naval corvette and the Type 636 diesel-electric submarine.

"Among the new types of weaponry, Libya is interested in purchasing air defense systems, combat aircraft and warships," Mikhail Dmitriyev, director of Russia's Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation, said.

But Libya has also sought to host a Russian military presence in an effort to increase deterrence. The sources said Gadhafi was considering offering the use of the Benghazi port to the Russian Navy.

In October 2008, a Russian Navy warship docked outside the Libyan port of Tripoli in a resumption of naval cooperation. Officials said additional Russian Navy vessels would dock outside Tripoli over the next few months.

"Russia is interested in acquiring access to naval bases in the Mediterranean as this would expand the operational reach of our navy," former Russian Navy deputy commander Adm. Ivan Kapitanets said.

Still, the sources said, Gadhafi has been under heavy U.S. pressure not to conclude a weapons deal with Moscow. They said Gadhafi has failed to fulfill his April 2008 pledge to then-President Vladimir Putin to purchase weapons from Russia. At the time, Putin agreed to cancel Libya's $4.7 billion debt to the former Soviet Union.

At this point, Gadhafi could agree to the return of Russian technicians to restore damaged or obsolete Soviet weapons in Libya, the sources said.

They said many of the Soviet aircraft, main battle tanks and artillery delivered to Libya in the 1970s and 1980s were deemed inoperable.

"We've discussed a series of strategic questions," Putin said after his meeting Gadhafi on Nov. 1.

In 2008, the sources said, Russia concluded a report on Libya's military requirements. The report urged Libya to modernize its air force, particularly MiG-23, MiG-25, Su-17 and Su-24 combat aircraft. Tripoli was also told to upgrade or replace its fleet of 60 S-125 Pechora air defense systems.

"We will pay particular attention to the modernization of weaponry delivered to Libya during the Soviet era," Dmitriyev said.

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