MOSCOW Nov 1 Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi said
on Saturday he wanted closer energy ties with Russia, shifting
the emphasis away from the arms sales which until now have been
at the core of their relationship.
Russia is in a three-way race with Europe and the United
States to secure lucrative contracts with Libya after it emerged
from international isolation by giving up its weapons of mass
In keeping with his tradition on foreign visits, Gaddafi --
who was born into a family of Bedouin herdsmen -- pitched a tent
in a Kremlin garden for his visit.
"Unfortunately, in the past our relations have been mainly
focused on military and diplomatic contacts and there was
virtually no cooperation in civilian sectors," Gaddafi told
President Dmitry Medvedev at the start of talks in the Kremlin.
"Libya and Russia are major producers of oil and gas," said
Gaddafi, on his first visit to Russia since 1985.
Shokri Ghanem, Libya's top energy official and head of its
OPEC delegation, had come to Moscow "so he could discuss
coordination with his Russian colleagues", Gaddafi said.
"I believe such cooperation is especially appropriate in the
current conditions. Moreover, we are linked by a common vision
of energy policy," Gaddafi said, in an apparent reference to the
sharp fall in oil prices in the wake of the financial crisis.
Diplomats say Gaddafi's trip to Moscow is intended to
counter-balance his fast-expanding relations with the West. U.S
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice went to Tripoli in September
for the first such visit in 55 years.
A Russian newspaper reported on Friday that the Libyan
leader planned to offer the Russian navy a base in the port of
Benghazi, but the two men made no mention of this in public at
their meeting on Saturday.
They also gave no details of what form their energy
cooperation might take.
Russian gas export monopoly Gazprom (GAZP.MM) has said it
wants to participate in a new gas pipeline running under the
Mediterranean from Libya to Europe.
State-owned oil major Rosneft (ROSN.MM) and private producer
LUKOIL (LKOH.MM) are both keen to invest in energy projects in
Libya, which is home to Africa's largest oil reserves and also
plans to become a major gas producer.
Libya and Russia are among the 12 member countries of the
Forum of Gas Exporting Countries, an organisation which has
prompted anxiety among gas consuming countries who fear it could
turn in to a "gas OPEC" and drive up prices.
Later on Saturday, Gaddafi is due to meet Vladimir Putin,
Russia's powerful prime minister and Medvedev's predecessor as
Putin, who at the time was still president, opened a new
chapter in relations with Tripoli when he became the first
Kremlin leader to visit Libya in April.
To coincide with Putin's visit, the Kremlin wrote off over
$4.5 billion of Libyan debt. Libya then promised to match the
write-off with contracts for Russian firms, including the
purchase of Russian arms.
Russian officials have privately complained that Libya has
since failed to deliver on its promises to buy weapons. They
said Medvedev and Putin would press Gaddafi on the issue.
(Additional reporting by Robin Paxton; Editing by Caroline