Libya: Russia’s Move May Lead to a Solution, but Is not Assured of Success

Muammar Gaddafi will not surrender into the hands of people inimical to him, especially to the West. Russia has a card that can be played. Moscow has been in close contact with Tripoli for the past 30 years and Mikhail Margelov, who is a Middle East scholar, is a fitting person to send a message and to negotiate something. interview with Le Figaro Chief Foreign Policy Columnist Alexandre Adler

Russian Presidential Envoy to Africa Mikhail Margelov visited Egypt and Libya on June 7. Margelov met with Libyan opposition leaders in Benghazi to seek a solution to the conflict and to stabilize the situation in Libya. Margelov is now preparing for a visit to Tripoli to hold similar talks with the Libyan prime minister and foreign minister. Is there any basis for resolving the conflict and are there any chances for success? Or are these actions doomed to failure?

It seems a possibility is opening because Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi is not entirely defeated, and yet strategically he cannot win. Libya is still importing over 85 percent of its food, the oil has been seized by the opposition, the borders with Egypt and Tunisia have been sealed, and public opinion is not mobilizing on his side, as both Islamists and democrats do not like his regime. So, the time is ripe for him to withdraw.

That having been said, if there is an overall vengeance against his backers and his family when he withdraws, if he is foiled in his attempted exile, if an international tribunal is summoned to judge his crimes, and if his money is demanded by the opposition, then he will have ample incentive to stay as long as he can. Therefore, the negotiations that have started with his son Saif al-Islam also include extending certain warranties to him, his family and his backers, so they can leave Libya without facing persecution.

This would also allow his backers to create a genuine party and to take part in the election, which will establish a legitimate government after his fall. Of course, this is very difficult to achieve, and Gaddafi will not surrender into the hands of people inimical to him, especially to the West.

Here, Russia has a card that can be played. During the last G20 summit, Russia took the side of those parties asking Gaddafi to leave Libya. So, on the one hand, there is no ambiguity in terms of the Russian government’s position. On the other hand, Russia has been in close contact with Libya for the past 30 years, and Margelov, who is a Middle East scholar, is also a fitting person to send a message and to negotiate something.

Thus, as all bloodshed would be counterproductive and the revolutionary Libya has to be controlled to a certain degree, I believe that this would be the best solution. I think the West should encourage this mediation.

Of course, we are not handling a rationale player. We are handling – how should I put it – a dictator without a complete mastery of reason. And that's why Russia’s move, which may lead to a solution, is not assured of success.

Margelov said Libya's temporary government has guaranteed that all existing economic agreements with Russia will be respected. Do you think this could be an indirect confirmation of the Gaddafi regime’s departure?

It might. However, on the other hand, Margelov’s declaration is still rather noncommittal. Saying the agreement with Russia would be respected is to a certain extent ambiguous. Of course, as the Russian government asked Gaddafi to leave the country at the last G8 summit, one could expect that retaliation should be taken against Russian interests. But that will not be the case. On Gaddafi’s behalf, this is a conciliatory gesture. However, it is probably too rash a conclusion to say that Gaddafi’s departure is already earmarked. Nothing is certain yet.

Libya's opposition has invited Russia to open an information mission in Benghazi. Do you think Russia will accept the proposal?

I don't know if Russia will accept the proposal, but it is surely part of a general agreement. If Russia opens a presence in Benghazi, as the Chinese have done, this would mean the Russians could make a sort of diplomatic move between the two camps to avoid further bloodshed and the civil war’s intensification. That would be commendable. However, this depends on how the negotiations proceed with the Gaddafi camp.

Do you think Libya could possibly split if the conflict continues?

No, I don't. Contrary to what some observers have said, there is absolutely no difference – regional or ideological – between the east and the west.

As Benghazi was not heavily guarded, it became the fulcrum of the insurgency. However, anyone can see that both in Tripoli and in the country’s western regions bordering Tunisia, the people have revolted in the same way. The only reason why Tripoli is still holding with Gaddafi's forces is because most of his armed forces are concentrated there.

The Libyan people should be allowed to express themselves freely. Those in the west and the east should reconcile. Nobody in the country, I think, wants a split along any lines. After 30 years of common life, everyone wants to be a Libyan – not a member of Cyrenaica or Tripolitania. A regional split on historical-provincial lines is one possible scenario, but it has no fundamental reason to exist.

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