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Russia could sign $2-4 bln arms contracts with Libya

Russia’s potential arms contracts with Libya could be worth between $2 billion and $4 billion, a Russian defense analyst said on Wednesday.

The Kremlin said on Monday that outgoing President Vladimir Putin would visit the north African state on April 16-17 at the invitation of Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, but did not give details of the agenda. “$2-4 billion is quite a realistic figure for [arms] contracts between our countries. In the Libyans’ place, I would start with upgrading air defense systems, including the air fleet, and modernizing their arms and military equipment,” Konstantin Makiyenko, deputy director of the Russian Center for Strategic and Technological Analysis, said in an interview with RIA Novosti. He said the Libyan military has obsolete and ageing weapon systems. “Although their T-72 tanks are also obsolete, they can still be used to perform combat missions; however, their air defense and especially air systems are hopelessly behind the times,” he said.

The analyst added, that Libya’s fighter aviation - Soviet-era MiG-21 and MiG-23 jets - have outlived their usefulness. However, he suggested that no contracts for the delivery of Russian-made state-of-the-art air defense systems and combat aircraft to Libya should be expected in the foreseeable future.

Business daily Vedomosti said on Tuesday that Russia wants to sell 12 Su-35 Flanker multirole fighters and Tor-M2E short-range missile systems to Libya, and offer spare parts and maintenance services for Soviet-era military hardware. An aircraft industry source quoted by the daily confirmed the deal is almost ready, but said the majority of contracts could only be initialed in Libya as the two countries have failed to reach an agreement on the African state’s Soviet-era debt, which Russia earlier put at about $3.5 billion. Tripoli said in the 1990s that Russia also had an outstanding debt to Libya. However, a Russian government official told Vedomosti, that the debt dispute could be resolved and the arms contracts signed during Putin’s visit, as Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin and Rosoboronexport chief Anatoly Isaikin will both accompany the outgoing leader.

In arms sales to Tripoli, Russia has encountered tough competition with Western nations since the UN lifted sanctions against Libya in 2003, after Qaddafi announced he would halt the national nuclear weapons program and later accepted responsibility for the 1998 terrorist bombing over Lockerbie in Scotland, agreeing to pay compensation to the victims’ families. France is anxious to sell Tripoli 18 Rafale fighter aircraft worth €2.5 billion (about $4 billion). (