Summit in a Bedouin's tent

MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti commentator Andrei Murtazin) - Never before has Putin held high-level talks in a Bedouin's tent, but Libyan revolutionary leader Muammar Qaddafi, who is a son of the desert, would not have it any other way. Libyan protocol sets his Azizia residence, not far from Tripoli, as the only receiving area for all foreign guests.

Unlike Arab sheikhs from Persian Gulf countries who regard a magnificent palace as one of the marks of prestige, the Bedouin Qaddafi hates and rejects luxury. Besides, this is the place where his adopted six-month old daughter was killed in a 1986 American bombing raid. The building she was in was left as it was, unrepaired.

Close by stands the tent where the summit took place. However, it is not only Qaddafi's official residence. It is also where he relaxes.

The visit's results are impressive, despite waiting eight years for the meeting. In 2000, Putin and Qaddafi exchanged invitations, but never acted on them. The economic sanctions that stood in the way were not lifted until 2004.

"Your visit is very opportune," said the Libyan leader as he met his Russian counterpart, to which Putin answered, "You have not been to Russia for a long time either."

Putin and Qaddafi have found a common language. Both are strong leaders used to telling the truth in the face of whatever comes. It is this quality that puts Qaddafi in ill favor with many Arab leaders. Putin, on the other hand, only welcomes such an approach.

The first outcome of the visit is the settling of Libya's debt to the former Soviet Union. Tripoli recognized the $4.6 billion sum named by Moscow. In reply, Russia wrote it off in exchange for new and promising contracts with Russian companies.

One of them is a Russian Railways (RZD) contract to build a 500-kilometer railroad between Sirt and Benghazi. Its sum is 2.2 billion euros. According to Russia's Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin, the contract will finance 70% of Libya's purchases of plant and equipment in Russia.

Another is a memorandum of understanding signed by Russian energy giant Gazprom and Libya's National Oil and Gas Company.

Altogether, ten agreements on trade, economic and military cooperation were signed. For understandable reasons the military ones are not publicized, but in the view of Russian analysts they involve deliveries of between $2 and $4 billion worth of weapons and equipment.

The Libyan military is interested in the most advanced Russian armaments, many of which have not even been adopted by the Russian army. These are Ka-52 Alligator helicopters and Su-35 fighters. Besides, as sources in Rosoboronexport, Russia's state arms exporter, said earlier, the Libyans plan to buy S-300 and Tor- M1 surface-to-air missile systems, two submarines, and spare parts for the older Soviet arms Tripoli received in the 1970s and 1980s.

Another equally important result is the signing of a political declaration on strengthening friendship and developing cooperation. This means Moscow has recognized Tripoli's new role in the world, as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council.

That is a real breakthrough, considering that only five years ago Libya had the whole world aligned against it and economic sanctions standing in the way of its normal economic development. But that is a thing of the past now.

The newly opened Libyan market is a Klondike today, where many are fighting for a place in the sun. Russia is a late comer. The first to arrive was the United States, which only recently considered Libya to be part of the axis of evil. It was followed by Libya's traditional economic partners, France and Italy. It should also be remembered that even in the early 1980s, at the height of trade and economic relations between Russia and Libya, the Soviet Union was not among Libya's key trading partners.

In the early years of Soviet-Libyan friendship, their turnover was about $1 billion and in 2007, $230 million. Russia is unlikely to become one of Libya's top ten contractors any time soon.

But Putin did a great thing in Tripoli: he cleared and staked out a patch for Russia's oil and gas companies and paved the way for Rosoboronexport in the Libyan arms market, which is worth a lot.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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