Russia pledges to mediate Libya conflict
Russia said Friday it would ramp up diplomatic efforts to mediate an end to the conflict in Libya, after being encouraged to do by G8 partners at a two-day summit in northern France.
Moscow's special representative to Africa, Mikhail Margelov, said both France and the United States had requested that Russia lend its diplomatic muscle to helping find a solution to the three-months-old conflict.
"Our task is to find such a formula under which both sides would find it acceptable to agree to an immediate ceasefire, which for its part would pave the way for the end of the coalition's military operation," Russia's deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov said.
"Yes, we need President Medvedev's help. This help is welcome," France's President Nicolas Sarkozy told journalists after hosting the summit, thanking Russia for toughening its stance on Kadhafi's pariah regime.
Sarkozy accused Kadhafi of continuing to attack Libyan civilians, and insisted he would have to step down, but welcomed Russia's involvement in negotiations to find a way for him to make his exit.
Russia's front seat role in negotiating an end to the conflict was not alluded to in the final declaration of the summit, but Russian officials insist they had been entrusted with a leading diplomatic role.
"They asked. Both Obama and Sarkozy," Margelov told reporters in the windswept French resort of Deauville, referring to bilateral meetings between Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and his US and French counterparts.
The announcement appears to be a major diplomatic coup for the Kremlin, which strongly opposed the western bombing campaign against strongman Moamer Kadhafi's forces.
On Friday, a senior US official said Medvedev told US President Barack Obama during a bilateral meeting the previous day that Kadhafi must go.
The official added that the Russian switch proved the international front was hardening against Kadhafi.
Moscow feels it offers the only real diplomatic avenue towards a negotiated solution to the conflict, which has cost thousands of lives since it erupted in mid-February.
"If Russia's respectful tone in its dialogue with the Libyan government helps Mr Kadhafi take the right decision, I think it would be a serious and significant contribution to the settlement of a really difficult situation," said Rybakov.
In March, Russia abstained from the UN Security Council resolution on Libya that essentially authorised military action. The Kremlin later complained that the West exceeded its UN mandate and abused Russia's goodwill.
Ryabkov said Moscow agreed that the Libyan leader had to go. "We believe that Colonel Kadhafi has forfeited legitimacy due to his actions," he said. "Indeed we need to help him go."
In the recent past Moscow had few qualms about accommodating Kadhafi's whims as it competed for access to the resource-rich country.
When the Libyan leader arrived in Moscow for his first visit to post-Soviet Russia in 2008, Moscow let him pitch his Bedouin tent inside the Kremlin walls in a break from security protocol.
Moscow has refused to accept the rebels as a legitimate power in Libya and still has formal ties with the Tripoli government.
© 2011 AFP