Gaddafi presents West with race against the clock

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Russia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, like the U.S. State Department, often issues statements on significant world events simply because that is what world powers are supposed to do.

Russia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, like the U.S. State Department, often issues statements on significant world events simply because that is what world powers are supposed to do. But there was nothing routine about the Ministry's statement calling "unacceptable" any attempts to exert "outside pressure" on events in the Arab world.

For its part, the West knows it cannot simply watch as events in Libya unfold, as it did with Egypt. The United States and European nations, in particular, are being forced to make decisions on the fly, so they might make some mistakes that would have serious repercussions. And Muammar Gaddafi - cruel, unscrupulous but crafty - is attempting to rush the West into committing blunders.

Col. Gaddafi has already ordered his security services to begin destroying oil facilities, Time magazine reported Monday. This clever yet risky move is meant as a threat to Europe, not the local tribes which receive a portion of oil revenues - they are content to wait until Gaddafi is overthrown. Skyrocketing oil prices will be very unsettling for Europe, as Libya supplies 51% of Italy's oil, 13% of Germany's and 5% of France's.

The Gaddafi regime has also raised the specter of al-Qaeda. Libya's Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Khaim told AFP that this terrorist organization has established an Islamic emirate in Derna, a town in eastern Libya. And there are claims that al-Qaeda is seeking to capitalize on the anarchy in other Libyan towns. This might seem like a hoax, but the fact that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has urged Gaddafi to "listen to the voice of his people" lends credence to these claims. Iran appears to be genuinely unnerved by the prospect of its nemesis al-Qaeda gaining control over parts of Libya.

The United States does not rely on Libyan oil as much as Italy or Germany, nor is it under the threat of a tidal wave of refugees from Libya. However, the United States cannot tolerate entire Libyan provinces falling to al-Qaeda. If Gaddafi's government is toppled, the United States may be faced with the prospect of negotiating with the despised terrorist organization, if not bin Laden himself.

The prospect of a refugee crisis is putting immense pressure on Europe. It will not be able to shut its doors on Libyan refugees who have the entire world on their side. However, accepting hundreds of thousands of refugees is not an option.

Simply put, the West does not have the luxury of sitting back while the Libyan people overthrow Gaddafi, as was the case with Mubarak, because civil war is a very real possibility.

The West has several options. The first is to impose harsh economic sanctions on Libya, essentially a total blockade. But sanctions take time to produce results.

The second option is direct military intervention. But any NATO action would have to be approved by Italy, France and Germany.

And finally, the third option - to convince Egypt to send its army in to do the dirty work. Cairo would have opposed this just a few months ago, but now it needs money to compensate for the economic toll of the recent instability. Even though this option may at first seem implausible, it is probably still on the table.

There is actually one more option. The West could enter into negotiations with Gaddafi and help him hold onto power in exchange for certain concessions to the opposition. The media would then spin these relatively minor concessions as Gaddafi heeding the will of his people under pressure from the international community. There are plenty of politicians in the world who can teach Gaddafi how it's done.

Most likely the European Union will split into different factions advocating different options. But Europe has no time to waste. It will either have to lean on Egypt or start negotiations with Gaddafi.

The statement from the Russian Foreign Ministry was meant to prevent its Western partners from panicking and messing everything up, and distance Russia from any possible consequences should the West end up doing this.

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

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