Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Libya: Russia and China Team Up on Libya

Russian and Chinese foreign ministers | Credit: GMedia and Wikimedia Commons

By Aleksandra Emelianov

Courtesy IDN-InDepth NewsReport

MOSCOW (IDN) - Russia and China, two veto wielding permanent members of the UN Security Council that abstained from endorsing military action to protect civilians in Libya, have decided to team up case-by-case to maximise their influence in the world body.

The decision was taken during Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi's talks in Moscow with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov and President Dmitry Medvedev.

Reports in Russian media -- Interfax and RIA Novosti -- on May 6 quoted Lavrov as saying that Russia and China will "coordinate their actions" in the UN Security Council and beyond to support the "soonest possible stabilization of the situation" in North Africa and the Middle East.

"Lavrov spoke more abundantly and aggressively than Yang during this event. Reasserting Russia's known objections to NATO's intervention in Libya, Lavrov added for the first time negative comments about Arab states and organisations that support that intervention in one way or another," media reports said.

The Russia-China consultations in Moscow were preceded by President Medvedev's visit to China on April 14. He was quoted as saying that NATO's military operation was going beyond the mandate of Security Council resolution 1973 on Libya.

"Moscow insists that any military measures that, in its view, overstep the UN mandate must first be submitted to the Security Council for Russian consent," reported Eurasia Daily Monitor."As Lavrov indicated again during Yang’s Moscow visit, Russia does not rule out its consent. It simply hints that its consent via a new resolution is subject to negotiation."

Vladimir Socor says in a report for Eurasia Daily Monitor: Moscow is apparently concerned that NATO countries may be planning a military operation on the ground in Libya. The Kremlin does not necessarily oppose a ground operation in principle.

But it does oppose NATO/U.S. actions undertaken without prior negotiations in the Security Council with Russia, implying strategic trade-offs. Consequently, Medvedev and Lavrov are warning against "usurpation of the Security Council's authority” by NATO in this case, writes Socor.

Moscow's next concern is to rehabilitate its own interpretation of state sovereignty and non-interference in the internal affairs of states, he adds.

"Russia and China are traditionally on common ground with this principle, although they apply it differently. While Beijing accepts the self-restraint this principle implies, Moscow seeks to use it as a restraint on the West.

"In Libya's case, Moscow criticizes those 'taking sides' in favour of the Benghazi rebels and against Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, the two parties to a civil war. While stopping short of defending Gaddafi's legitimacy, Russia objects to the calls for his removal from power. As Lavrov insisted during Yang's visit, the UN mandate does not authorize Gaddafi's removal or any regime change through 'interference from the outside'," writes Socor.

In this context, Lavrov was particularly critical of Libya Contact Group's May 5 decisions. The Contact Group's meeting in Rome called for Gaddafi and his close circle to relinquish power, decided to finance the Benghazi civilian authorities, and endorsed moving funds from the Gaddafi government's frozen accounts abroad to the Benghazi rebels.

Lavrov's remarks have the potential to put Russia at odds with some influential Arab states on this issue. The Libya Contact Group includes the Arab League, the Gulf Cooperation Council, the Islamic Conference Organization, and the African Union, alongside the UN, the U.S., NATO, and the EU.

"While the Western participants pushed through the Contact Group's May 5 decisions and although the Arab countries' views are far from uniform on this issue, many Arab and other Muslim countries supported the Contact Group's May 5 decisions. Lavrov cautioned the Contact Group against trying to substitute the UN Security Council or taking sides in this civil war," Eurasia Daily Monitor reported.

Yang agreed with Medvedev's and Lavrov's calls for an immediate ceasefire and political negotiations between the Libyan government and rebels," without external interference." Beijing is careful to endorse Libya's territorial unity, unlike Moscow which remains ambiguous on that point -- "apparently seeing another possible bargaining chip in this issue".

China, like Russia, had abstained in Security Council's April 17 vote that authorized a limited military operation to protect Libya's civilian population. On May 2, China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed concern over the escalation of the military operation and a growing number of civilian casualties, China's state news agency Xinhua stated.

Beijing is opposed to any action not authorized by the Security Council, and it has expressed hope for ceasefire and negotiations without any further delay.

The need for a political solution to the Libya crisis has meanwhile been emphasized by the NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen in a CNN interview on May 8. When asked what NATO is going to do to break the stalemate on the ground between the Libyan opposition forces and government military, Rasmussen replied: "First of all, we have to realize there's no military solution solely. We will need a political solution."

Rasmussen reiterated that the NATO-led mission in Libya is accomplished only when its three very clear military objectives are fulfilled, which are "a complete end" to all attacks against civilians, a "free and unhindered and immediate access" for humanitarian assistance and a withdrawal of government troops to their bases and barracks.

Meanwhile, Xinhua reported from Tripoli on May 7, Prime Minister al-Baghdadi Ali al-Mahmoudi had stated that Libya welcomes any proposals that could help solve the North African country's crisis.

Proposals, no matter from whom, are welcome as long as they are conducive to solving the crisis of the war-torn country, especially those raised by countries friendly to Libya, he told journalists in Tripoli.

He also expressed Gaddafi government's demand for full implementation of UN resolutions on Libya, saying activities in violation of these resolutions should be investigated and reviewed. Al-Mahmoudi said Libya shall firmly implement UN Security Council Resolutions 1970 and 1973 as well as other international proposals which call for a truce, especially the ceasefire plan put forward by the African Union.

The African Union reaffirmed its intention to continue striving for a political solution, despite the rebels turning down its proposals.