Former ambassador Vladimir Chamov, who was sacked last week, has returned to Moscow -- and he doesn't appear ready to go quietly into the sunset.
In an interview published today in the daily "Moskovsky komsomolets," Chamov denied that he sent a telegram to President Dmitry Medvedev calling him a "traitor" over Russia's failure to veto the UN Security Council resolution authorizing a no-fly zone in Libya.
But he did say that he told Medvedev that Russia was betraying its interests in Libya by abandoning Muammar Qaddafi:
I wrote a telegram saying that I represent Russia's interests in Libya. Our country has recently been focused on establishing close cooperation there, and it is not in Russia's interest to lose a partner. Russian companies have signed very lucrative contracts for tens of billions of euros, which we could lose. That in some respects can be regarded as a betrayal of Russian interests.
Russia has said it will lose $4 billion in weapons deals in Libya as a result of an arms embargo on the country. Moreover, Reuters reports that Russian companies have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in oil and gas exploration in Libya. Russian Railways has also signed a 2.2 billion euro contract to build a railway in the country.
According to Russian press reports, Chamov, who told "Moskovsky komsomolets" that he "talked quite often" with Qaddafi, was instrumental in setting up many of the deals.
President Dmitry Medvedev sharply rebuked Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Monday for comparing the international military actions in Libya to the crusades. Medvedev called those comments "unacceptable" and Putin later walked them back, saying he was simply expressing his personal opinion -- not Russian policy.
Asked what he thought of Putin's crusades reference, Chamov went out of his way to praise the prime minister, who is widely seen as Russia's true ruler. "What I particularly like about Vladimir Vladimirovich [Putin] is that he very clearly and briefly states his position. And in this case, I think he is not far from the truth," Chamov said according to "Moskovsky komsomolets."
Despite Chamov's dismissal as ambassador, and his outspokenness upon returning to Moscow, he has remarkably not been fired from the Foreign Ministry, where he serves as a career diplomat. Prior to his posting in Libya he served as a Russian ambassador to Iraq from 2004-8.
"Moskovsky komsomolets" reported that Chamov gave them the interview shortly after his arrival at Moscow's Sherametavo-2 airport late Wednesday night.
In his on-camera remarks to journalists upon landing, he was much more guarded.
WATCH THE VIDEO HERE (IN RUSSIAN COURTESY OF RIA-NOVOSTI):
As I blogged here yesterday, the discord over Moscow's policy toward the Libya crisis appears to reflect a broader debate going on among the Russian elite.
Medvedev and his allies, analysts say, are aiming to dial back Moscow's tendency to oppose and confront the United States on every issue in favor of broader cooperation with Washington. Putin and the security service veterans close to the prime minister remain deeply skeptical of such a change.
This debate has been going on for some time, particularly since U.S. President Barack Obama initiated Washington's "reset" in relations with Moscow. What is somewhat surprising is that it has become so public, with Medvedev and Putin so personally involved.
-- Brian Whitmore