Vladimir Radyuhin

MOSCOW: Russia and Libya are poised to embark on large-scale projects in the defence and energy spheres in the wake of Libyan leader Muamar Qadhafi’s visit to Moscow on October 31 to November 2.

Mr. Qadhafi’s first visit to Russia since 1985 signalled a revival of Soviet-era strategic ties between the two countries. “The development of all-round relations between our countries… will help restore geopolitical equilibrium,” said Mr. Qadhafi while describing his parlays in Moscow as “talks between strategic partners.”

During his three-day visit, the two sides signed a framework agreement on nuclear cooperation, discussed multi-billion dollar arms deals and moved to cement their interaction in oil and gas.

Mr. Qadhafi also offered Russia a naval base in the port of Benghazi, according to media reports. Russia is keen to re-establish permanent military presence in the Mediterranean and is already upgrading port facilities at Syria’s Tartus. The civil nuclear pact signed by the nuclear energy chiefs of Russia and Libya provides for the construction of reactors in Libya and cooperation in medicine and nuclear waste disposal, said Libyan Foreign Minister Abdelrahman Chalgham, who accompanied Mr. Qadhafi to Moscow.

Russia’s gas export monopoly Gazprom head Alexei Miller and Libya’s National Oil Corporation chief Shukri Mohamed Ganem reached agreement to hold trilateral talks with Italy’s Eni later this month on joint projects, including a new major gas pipeline running under the Mediterranean from Libya to Europe.

Mr. Qadhafi called for closer cooperation between the two countries in energy, pointing out that they shared “a common vision of energy policy.” Experts said Libya could join the “big gas troika” forum that Russia, Iran and Qatar set up last month.

Mr. Qadhafi’s Moscow visit came six months after then President Vladimir Putin opened a new chapter in relations between Russia and Libya by becoming the first Kremlin leader to visit Tripoli.

Mr. Putin agreed to write off $4.6 billion of Libyan debt to Russia in exchange for Mr. Qadhafi’s promise to resume purchases of Russian arms. The former Soviet Union had supplied Libya with an estimated $20 billion worth of weapons.

A Russian defence industry source said Russia and Libya had prepared a number of contracts for the supply of combat aircraft, anti-aircraft missile systems, submarines and other weapons to the tune of over $2 billion.

From Moscow, Mr. Qadhafi went to Belarus and then to Ukraine. Both are leading arms manufacturers.