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Libyan Leader Visits Russia To Talk Arms, Energy

Then-President Vladimir Putin (left) visited Qaddafi in Libya in April.
(RFE/RL) -- Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi is in Moscow at the start of a three-day visit to Russia, his first in more than two decades.

Qaddafi last visited Moscow in 1985, six years before the Soviet collapse, and three years before the bombing of a Pan Am jetliner over Scotland made a pariah out of Libya and its leader.

Twenty-three years later, Russia is a resurgent world power.

Qaddafi -- while still controversial -- has slowly but steadily repaired his reputation. He has used Libya's energy riches to make amends to the Pan Am victims and renounce weapons of mass destruction in 2003, a step that led to the lifting of international sanctions.

"This was largely possible because Qaddafi decided to give up his nuclear weapons program, and handed over the program and all the materials for safekeeping in Pennsylvania," says Irina Lagunina of RFE/RL's Russian Service.

"After that sanctions were lifted and Qaddafi's regime was able to concentrate on development," she adds. "The country, which has enormous potential, was a complete ruin after 12 years of sanctions. Of course it needs money, it needs international investment."

Arms Deals Expected

Such priorities may explain why Qaddafi is visiting Russia -- and why Tripoli and Moscow may be set to resume their Cold War-era military cooperation.

Arms purchases are on the agenda for the Libyan leader's three-day visit, which begins with dinner at Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's residence outside Moscow.

Libya was a frequent purchaser of arms during the Soviet era, and may be prepared to spend more than $2 billion on new supplies.

Talks may also focus on plans for Russia to help build a nuclear power plant in Libya.

In return, Russia's "Kommersant" newspaper is reporting, Qaddafi may offer Moscow the possibility of building a naval base at the Libyan port city of Benghazi.

The paper said such a move would be a "guarantee of nonaggression against Libya from the United States."

A squadron of Russian warships stopped in Tripoli earlier this month en route to Venezuela for war games in the Caribbean.

Russia's then-President Vladimir Putin also visited the Libyan capital in April to cancel billions of dollars of Libya's Soviet-era debt in exchange for new contracts.

Russia's Foreign Ministry has described Libya as sharing Moscow's position on the importance of a multipolar world and opposition to U.S. dominance.

But not all is rosy between the two capitals. Qaddafi has angered Moscow by refusing to join the "natural-gas OPEC" proposed by Russia and Qatar. He has also failed to honor some of the contracts signed as part of the debt-cancellation scheme.

The Libyan leader may make up for some of that during his arms-shopping excursion, during which he is expected to pick up fighter planes, tanks, and air-defense systems. Qaddafi is expected to visit Ukraine and Belarus following his visit to Russia.

with agency reporting