Can Russia still act responsibly? In Libya vote, yes.

Despite its Crimea crime, Russia votes at the UN to honor Libya's sovereignty against rebel attempts to steal the country's oil. The world order still needs that kind of Russia.

Reuters
The oil tanker Morning Glory is seen docked at the Es Sider oil export terminal in Libya in this March 8 photo. U.S. Navy SEALS seized the ship Monday after Libyan rebels arranged to take it to a foreign port.

Before Russia’s actions in Crimea lead people to rebrand it as the “evil empire” of Soviet days, it deserves some credit for a civilized move at the United Nations on Wednesday.

Moscow voted in favor of a Security Council resolution that stands up for Libya’s sovereignty. The resolution condemns any attempt to steal oil from the North African country, which holds the ninth largest proven oil reserves in the world. Earlier this month, a rebel group sailed off with a tanker full of Libyan oil in a brazen attempt to sell it to an unknown buyer. On Monday, US Navy SEALs retook the tanker in the Mediterranean at the request of Libya’s government.

Unlike Russia’s illegal use of troops in Crimea, this American display of force was widely supported at the UN, including by Russia. The world body does not tolerate piracy. But beyond that, it also still takes some responsibility for Libya’s near-lawless condition.

This month marks the third anniversary of the UN authorizing NATO to use force against the regime of Muammar Qaddafi. Since his downfall and demise, Libya’s attempt to form a democracy has been stymied by militias vying to influence the capital, Tripoli, or to break up the country. A constitution has yet to be written. And under intense political pressure over the tanker incident, Prime Minister Ali Zeidan fled the country last week.

The interim government’s woes led it to ask the UN for help on Wednesday in fighting off militias, especially a group in the east commanded by Ibrahim al-Jadhran that arranged the oil tanker heist. That group has taken over the country’s largest oil terminals, reducing Libya’s oil sales from 1.6 million barrels a day to 230,000 barrels. The dramatic drop in revenues has only weakened the government further and slowed the training of a national army and police force. If the rebels are able to raise money by selling oil, it could ignite a full civil war.

For now, the fighting in Libya is not nearly as deadly as in Syria. And the country is not ruled by the military as in Egypt. As one of the original Arab Spring countries, it still has a chance to be like neighboring Tunisia, which has balanced contending political forces within a budding democracy.

This is why Russia’s backing at the UN is helpful despite its carving up of Ukraine. The UN has reaffirmed the need for rule of law and the honoring of sovereignty in Libya. That’s a potential sign that Russia might do the same for the rest of Ukraine.

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