17 russia r 620 Libya one year on: Russia regrets

It feels so strange to be in Moscow for the first anniversary of the revolution which overthrew Muammar Gaddafi. One year ago, the people of Benghazi burst into the katiba, the barracks where Gaddafi’s forces stayed, whereupon the soldiers fled or laid down their weapons. Across Libya, there is celebration and in Nato countries which supported the uprising, self-congratulation. Not here.

The Russian government went along with the UN intervention, without which Gaddafi might have remained in power. Now they regret abstaining rather than vetoing the UN Security Council resolution which paved the way for Nato jets to attack Gaddafi’s defences. Not because they have any lingering love for the late Brother Leader, but because of the precedent it set.“Russia is strictly against a situation when a group of countries can play the role of a global judge, judging whose leader is legal and whose is non-legal,” said Dimitri Peskov, Prime Minister Putin’s spokesman, when I met him this week. The Russians are alarmed at the idea that the Security Council decides, as he put it, “to get rid of wanted or unwanted leaders.”

He’s talking about Syria. The principle of “non interference” is a fungible thing – the Russians don’t talk of “non interference” in Georgia or Ukraine, countries in their sphere of influence, which they think should remain close to Moscow and not become allies of the European Union or the US. But the Middle East has long been divided along Cold War lines, and the Russians fear Syria, their last close friend in the region, falling into the Western camp. But they also have a genuine fear that Syria may descend into chaos, becoming an ungoverned space where terrorists move at will. Al-Qaeda’s announcement that it supports the same rebels that Western countries are backing shows how messy and complicated the Syrian conflict has become.

Which brings us back to Libya. There’s nothing Libyans like more than a party – gathering in a square waving their beloved red-black-green flags, painting the children’s faces with the national colours and singing patriotic songs. And shooting their Kalashnikovs into the air. Because one year after the start of the revolution, six months after from the fall of Tripoli, four months after from the killing of Gaddafi militiamen are still armed and on the loose. The weak National Transitional Council seems unable to restore law and order. The armed groups are fighting each other, and this week Amnesty International reported that they’re are imprisoning and torturing people just like Gaddafi’s forces did.

I don’t think the Russian government is bothered about human rights abuse in Libya or Syria – its own record is pretty poor. But they do have a point about chaos and violence. Libya is not the advertisement for revolution and intervention the people who sparked it dreamed of one year ago.

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