Russia, in swift about-face, recognizes Libyan rebels
The Kremlin opposed NATO's air war and called for negotiations between the rebels and Qaddafi. But its concern about keeping billion-dollar contracts with Libya seems to have caused the switch.
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But on Thursday Moscow suddenly pushed the mute button on its criticism, joined a Paris conference of some 60 nations aimed at consolidating support for the victorious anti-Qaddafi insurgents, and surprised many by extending immediate official recognition to Libya's rebels as the country's only legitimate government.
"The Russian Federation recognizes the Transitional National Council of Libya as the ruling authority and notes the program of reforms announced by it, which envisions developing a new constitution, holding general elections and forming a government," the foreign ministry said in a terse statement posted on its website Thursday.
In recent weeks Moscow had urged the rebels to seek a negotiated settlement with Mr. Qaddafi, and President Dmitry Medvedev suggested earlier this week that Russia might withhold official recognition from the TNC until it demonstrated an ability to unite Libyans and control the country's whole territory.
But the foreign ministry statement offered a small, diplomatically-worded hint on the reasons for Russia's swift about-face: "We presume that the contracts previously concluded by the Russian Federation and Libya, and the other mutual obligations of the parties continue in effect in relations between the two states and will be carried out in good faith," it said.
In plain terms, Russia has economic interests to protect – $10 billion worth.
These include about $4 billion in arms contracts that were negotiated with Qaddafi, including a $1 billion deal to supply anti-missile systems that was shut down by sanctions when the war began. There is also a $3 billion contract for the state-owned Russian Railroads company to build a high speed rail link between the Libyan cities of Sirte and Benghazi, and another $3 billion or so in oil and gas related contracts signed by Qaddafi with Russian state companies such as Gazprom and Tatneft.