BRUSSELS — Russia’s envoy to NATO alleged Friday that the alliance’s war effort in Libya marks a major strategic shift to focusing on securing oil and gas supplies for the West.
Dmitry Rogozin, Russia’s ambassador to NATO, described its former Cold War rival’s intervention in Libya as legitimate because it was aimed at protecting civilians, but he said Russia believes the underlying reason was access to Libyan oil.
“For Russia, NATO’s operation in Libya indicated that the major interests of the alliance now lay not in Europe’s East – where its adversaries the Warsaw Treaty Pact and the Soviet Union used to be – but in oil-rich lands of Northern Africa and the Middle East,” Rogozin said in an email.
Moscow was critical of NATO’s bombing campaign, saying the unrelenting airstrikes overstepped the limited U.N. Security Council that authorized the defense of the civilian population.
NATO says it is fully complying with the U.N. mandate, and that forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi still pose a threat to Libya’s civilians. The alliance also has rejected criticism from Russia, China and the African Union, which tried to get the warring sides in Libya to end the bloodshed through a negotiated settlement.
Alliance warplanes have flown over 20,000 sorties in the war, including about 8,000 strike missions against Gadhafi’s forces.
A NATO official responded to Rogozin’s remarks by noting that the alliance had not taken on this mission by itself.
“NATO was responding to a U.N. resolution which asked the world to help Libya,” said the official who could not be identified under standing alliance rules. “If anybody suggested otherwise, he had not followed the details of how this effort was put together.”
Despite its reservations, Russia gave a boost to Thursday’s international conference in Paris on Libya’s future by recognizing the opposition movement as the country’s interim leadership. Russia’s envoy to to the talks said Russia wants to defend its own economic interests in Libya.
But Rogozin noted that Moscow would not allow any U.N. resolution condemning human rights violations in Syria because of fears that it could provide the pretext for an all-out Western military onslaught on that country akin to the bombing campaign against Libya, now in its sixth month.
Overall relations between Russia and NATO have improved steadily over the past few years despite occasional disagreements over Georgia and Libya. Moscow has been particularly supportive of the NATO-led war in Afghanistan, providing the alliance with vital transit routes from Europe.
Rogozin – an outspoken diplomat known for his flamboyant rhetoric – said the Arab Spring is shaking the Muslim world and replacing longtime dictators with “new powers who support radical Islamic politics.”
“This is why the intervention of the Western countries into the situation in the Middle East in order to get the hydrocarbons is assessed as a very risky gamble, almost as dangerous as a stroll through a minefield,” he said.
A Libyan official said Friday that five foreign oil and gas companies have returned to Libya to resuscitate production choked off by civil war and sanctions. Aref Ali Nayed, a member of the Libyan interim government’s so-called stabilization team, named Italy’s Eni SpA as one of the companies but said he could not provide the names of the other four.
The Associated Press