The transitional Libyan government will review the country's international contracts but is no longer interested in Russian weapons, said the Transitional National Council of Libya. This statement raises questions not only about the future of Russian arms exports to Libya, but also about the debt contracted by the Gaddafi regime.
"We will honor any agreements concluded with other states before, but they will be checked and reviewed because some were based on corruption," Mustafa Abdeljalil, leader of Libya's Transitional National Council (TNC), told RIA Novosti. He said all the international contracts concluded by Gaddafi's government will be reviewed by the new Libyan authorities.
Abdeljalil said that prices of contracts that were concluded by the former regime "were heavily marked up." In addition, in replying to the reasonable question about the fate of Russian-Libyan arms contracts, he noted that the new government does not intend to buy weapons from Russia. "Libya will not need arms in the future," Abdeljalil said enigmatically.
Debt at overcharged rates
Libya was not among Russia's leading arms buyers, but the past three years have seen some important progress in that direction - important for maintaining Russian military exports following the collapse of military technical cooperation with Iran in 2010.
The attitude of Tripoli's new authorities carries added implications: the potential package of military supplies for Gaddafi, which is the current focus of the fuss, was tied up with the repayment of Libya's debt.
This debt has piled up since the Soviet era, with two-thirds of it from the unpaid supply of civilian goods. In April 2008, when Vladimir Putin visited Tripoli, Russia and Libya signed an agreement under which Moscow consented to write off the Gaddafi government's old debt which amounted to $4.6 billion at the time.
In lieu of actual money, Libya was to place orders for Russian arms - in an equivalent amount. Up until that point, Tripoli was mainly ordering repair parts and maintenance services from Russian producers.
By the time the Spring Uprising hit Libya, Gaddafi had concluded contracts totaling $2 billion, with others worth $1.8 billion in the final stages of preparation. Any precise information on these contracts - a description or the value of the equipment being purchased, which has agitated the new authorities so much - has not been released.
What is known is that one package of orders for S-300PMU-2 Favorit air defense systems alone could be as high as $800,000 to $1 million. This money, allocated for air defense, was to purchase Tor-M2E surface-to-air missile systems and upgraded S-125 Pechora missiles.
The contracts also covered Yak-130 combat trainers, 48 T-90 tanks, multiple launch rocket systems, a large package of small arms and a large number of parts for Soviet-made weapons in Libya. A total of 140 of Libya's T-72 tanks were to be upgraded.
Potentially, Libya was willing and ready to buy 12 Su-35S fighters for $800 million, thus becoming the first foreign customer to purchase the plane. Libya was also interested in Su-30MK fighters. A dozen or so Ka-52 strike helicopters could also have gone to North Africa. A Project 636 diesel submarine also came up for discussion.
It is impossible to understand why one of the richest oil exporters in the region, literally bathing in cash, decided to acquire weapons it so needed (as this year's spring and summer events showed) by using such contrived methods. No one could have prevented the Colonel from producing the money at any time (now the new authorities will use it) for familiar and accustomed Russian weapons.
But trying to understand Gaddafi's motives is a far from simple task. While seeking agreements with Moscow, he also made advances toward Paris. In the winter of 2007, the Colonel brought a memorandum for weapons purchases back from France with him, that amounted to, no matter how ridiculous it sounds, the same $4.6 billion. The list included, for example, 14 Dassault Rafale fighters - of the same type that have been carpet-bombing Libyan positions since spring.
The memorandum never materialized, nor, incidentally, did Russian deliveries, neither contracted nor scheduled. Those who have sought weapons have received and are receiving them: for example, Algeria or, despite outside political pressure, Syria.
The geopolitical zigzags of this wealthy Middle Eastern regime, that badly needed good weapons, crashed against the brutal reality of the Franco-British invasion. Outdated S-200s and Rubezh systems, not Favorit or Yakhont missiles, had to face the onslaught.
One may, of course, discuss the overstated prices for Russian contracts and refuse to buy weapons from Russia, if one forgets that Tripoli still owes Moscow $4.5 billion. An amount which, incidentally, it can now readily produce.
The views expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.