President Dmitry Medvedev on Wednesday said Russia would recognize the Libyan rebels if they “unite the country” while warning that the Kremlin’s old ally Muammar Qaddafi still retained influence.
In his first public comments on Libya since the rebels swiftly stormed its capital, Medvedev tread a cautious line between recognizing the change of power in Tripoli and breaking Moscow’s historic ties to the old regime.
“Despite the successes of the rebels, Qaddafi and his supporters still have a certain influence and military potential. We want them to sit down at the negotiating table and reach agreements on future peace,” Medvedev said.
He added that Moscow will only establish full diplomatic relations with the rebels “if they have the energy and possibilities to unite the country for a new democratic beginning.”
Russia was one of the strongest international critics of the NATO-led campaign against its military trading partner and now stands to lose a $4-billion weapons market it first developed in the 1980s.
The two sides’ energy ties were also at risk with the fall of Qaddafi--all factors in Russia’s decision to keep an embassy open in Tripoli and only recognize the rebels as a negotiating partner at formal peace talks.
Russia did not join the global chorus for Qaddafi’s ouster until after the start of the NATO offensive and now insists it is up to the people surrounding the veteran leader and the opposition to come up with a new government.
Medvedev warned starkly on Wednesday that it may well be premature for the rebels to be proclaiming victory or for other nations to be establishing formal ties with the opposition's National Transitional Council (NTC).
The situation in Libya remained “what it was before... in essence, there are two powers in the country,” said Medvedev during a rare summit meeting in Siberia with North Korea’s reclusive leader Kim Jong-Il.
“Russia has a careful position and we are watching how events develop,” the Kremlin chief added.
Medvedev’s comments appear to take a step back from a foreign ministry statement issued on Monday in which Russia predicted an imminent fall of Qaddafi.
“The dramatic turn of events in the Libyan conflict appears to testify to an imminent shift of power in this country to the rebel forces,” the ministry said in its Monday statement.
Russia also issued a separate statement at the time calling on the rebels to respect the personal safety of both Qaddafi’s old supporters and the Russian embassy in Tripoli.
The Kremlin’s African envoy Mikhail Margelov, who failed to convince Qaddafi to leave during a June visit to Tripoli, has also predicted a spell of unrest and mentioned the possibility of the country following the experience of Iraq.
Medvedev said that Moscow wanted Libya to remain an integral and sovereign state that “retains friendly relations with other countries.”