Gadhafi Pitches Tent Ahead of Talks

RIA NovostiMedvedev greeting Gadhafi at his Gorki residence outside Moscow on Friday.
Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi opened his first visit to post-Soviet Russia on Friday with a dinner at President Dmitry Medvedev's residence outside Moscow, after setting up his own traveling residence, a Bedouin tent, inside the Kremlin walls, Kremlin officials said.

Gadhafi, who last visited Moscow in 1985, arrived for three days of talks expected to focus on arms deals and energy amid Kremlin hopes to push ahead bilateral ties.

The Kremlin didn't appear at all phased by the addition of the tent.

"He takes it with him on all his foreign trips," said one Kremlin official, speaking on customary condition of anonymity.

Asked whether the Libyan leader planned to live there during his stay in Moscow, he said it was only one of Gadhafi's options.

"This is a game," he said.

Accounts of the exact location of the tent differed, however. A Kremlin official said it had been pitched in the Tainitsky, or "Secret," Garden within the Kremlin walls on the Moscow River side, while an officer with the Kremlin Guard Service said the tent had been erected indoors, in a Kremlin building in which Stalin used to watch movies.

During his visit to France last year, as relations between Libya and the European Union were opening up, Gadhafi put up his tent on the lawn of Hotel Marigny, across the street from the Elysee Palace.

While still president, Vladimir Putin revived ties between the two Cold War allies during an April visit to Tripoli, where he agreed to write off $4.5 billion in debt in exchange for hefty business deals. The talks with Putin were held in Gadhafi's tent.

"I hope the visit will be helpful for our relations," Gadhafi told Medvedev at the Maiendorf presidential residence during Friday evening's informal dinner.

"We have friendly ties, which have been developed over several decades," Medvedev said.

Gadhafi is scheduled to hold formal talks with Medvedev and Putin on Saturday.

"Relations will receive a significant boost during the talks," said Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov.

In a sign that the Kremlin wanted Libya to make good on earlier agreements, the presidential administration said Friday that the talks would focus on steps to implement deals reached in April.

Putin oversaw the signing of 10 trade, investment and political agreements in Libya, the largest of which was a 2.2 billion euro contract to build a 550-kilometer railway linking the cities of Sirte and Benghazi.

Russian Railways said Friday that work on the contract was proceeding on schedule and Libya had begun importing the construction equipment and materials for the project.

Gazprom and Tatneft also signed deals for the development of six oil and gas fields in the North African OPEC member.

On Friday, Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller met with Libya's National Oil Corporation head Shukri Ghanem. The two agreed on a three-way meeting between Gazprom, NOC and Italy's Eni to be held in November, the company said.

Saturday's talks will also focus on arms sales and the use of "the peaceful atom," the Kremlin said in a statement.

Libya could also agree to buy over $2 billion of Russian arms during the talks, a Defense Ministry source said on Friday, Interfax reported.

Tripoli is interested in S-300 and TOR-M1 surface-to-air missile systems and Su-30 and Mig-29 fighter jets, among other weapons, the source said.

Peskov and Kremlin spokespeople declined to discuss any possible arms agreements, while others were skeptical over the likelihood of any big weapons deals during this visit.

Ruslan Pukhov, director of the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, said Gadhafi was "only interested in arms as part of a broader package."

In a sign that the Libyan leader might be looking to strengthen his hand in bargaining with Russia, Gadhafi will also hold talks with Viktor Yushchenko of Ukraine and possibly Belarus' Alexander Lukashenko as well. Gadhafi is scheduled to visit Ukraine from Nov. 4 to 6, Yushchenko's office said. A Lukashenko spokesman said he could neither deny nor confirm the visit.

Pukhov estimated that Libya, which was a major customer for Soviet arms during the Cold War, could buy from $1.5 billion to $2.5 billion in weapons from Russia over several years.

Gadhafi might also offer to host a Russian naval base in the port of Benghazi, Kommersant reported, citing a source close to preparations for the talks.

Putin spokesman Peskov said he wasn't aware of any official proposals having been made, but it would only make sense to talk of such an offer after it was made.

"It would be very convenient for us, as it's at the center of the Mediterranean," said Bagrat Seiranyan, senior research fellow at the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of Oriental Studies. "Americans, of course, won't like it."

Libya's relations with the West underwent a thaw after Gadhafi promised in 2003 to dismantle his nuclear weapons program. Since then, Western countries have sought to win lucrative arms and other deals with the country.

As such, Seiranyan said, Gadhafi will likely try to play Moscow off against Washington.

"This is not a politician who will immediately throw himself into your arms," he said.