Putin arrives in Libya to sell guns and buy gas

The Russian President arrived in Tripoli on Wednesday to meet with Muammar Gaddafi for a "historic summit," during which they hope to sign deals on gas projects, nuclear energy and armament sales.


Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived in Libya on Wednesday for a 24-hour visit expected to be dominated by talks over energy contracts and arms sales.

Putin was immediately taken to Bab Azizia Palace, a sprawling complex where Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi usually pitches his tent when in Tripoli.

Putin is visiting the country at Kadhafi's invitation -- one of the Russian leader's final formal trips before he steps down on May 7.

The trip is expected to include talks on Russian investment in Libyan gas and nuclear energy as Moscow seeks to boost ties with Libya, which is emerging from 20 years of diplomatic and economic isolation.

Putin and Kadhafi reviewed a guard of honour before entering the Libyan leader's tent for what the official news agency JANA called a "historic summit."

Arms sales to Tripoli and the clearing of Soviet-era debt may also be touched on during their talks, according to Russian government sources.

The visit comes as Russia is trying to coordinate policy with other gas producing states, notably Algeria, and is promoting plans for an organisation of gas producers similar to OPEC, of which Libya is a member.

Last week Russian energy giant Gazprom said it was in talks with Libya about working on joint gas projects there with Eni of Italy.

Gazprom was awarded three gas exploration blocks in the Ghadamess basin in December, among some of the first given to foreign energy firms.

Libya has natural gas reserves estimated at 1.314 trillion cubic metres (45.990 trillion cubic feet) and is the African continent's second largest oil producer at 1.7 million barrels per day.

In December, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov held talks in Libya on a visit billed as offering support for Libya's burgeoning civil nuclear power sector.

Another major bilateral issue is the repayment of up to 3.5 billion dollars (2.2 billion euros) worth of Soviet-era debt to Moscow, Russia's RIA Novosti news agency reported, citing a finance ministry official.

And Russia hopes to sign a deal worth 2.5 billion dollars (1.6 billion euros) to sell air defence, aviation, naval and land-based weapons to Libya soon, Interfax news agency reported, citing an unnamed defence industry official.

Long a pariah state, Libya has gradually returned to the international fold after Kadhafi's December 2003 announcement that he was abandoning weapons of mass destruction programmes.

Putin is due to be replaced by hand-picked successor Dmitry Medvedev, who won a controversial election in March and says he will appoint Putin as a powerful prime minister.

His visit comes as Russia's neighbour Ukraine is also seeking ties with Libya, part of efforts to develop an energy policy independent of Moscow.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko visited Libya earlier this month and the Libyan leader is due to make a return visit later this year.

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