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Putin to bring arms contracts worth $3 bln to Libya – paper

Russia has prepared arms contracts worth $3 billion for outgoing president Vladimir Putin’s visit to Libya this week, a business daily said on Tuesday citing defense and aircraft industry officials.

The Kremlin said on Monday Putin would visit the oil and gas-rich north African state on April 16-17 at the invitation of Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, giving no details of the agenda. Business daily Vedomosti said citing a Defense Ministry official that Russia wants to sell 12 of the latest Su-35 Flanker multi-role fighter and Tor-M2E short-range missile systems, and to offer spare parts and maintenance services for Soviet-era military hardware. An aircraft industry source quoted by the daily confirmed the deal has almost been prepared, but added 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. But a Russian government official told Vedomosti 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.

Russia’s state arms exporter, Rosoboronexport, denied comment on the planned arms deals, the paper said adding Libya’s embassy in Moscow had also made no comment. In the arms market, Russia has encountered tough competition with Western nations since the UN lifted sanctions against Libya in 2003, after Qaddafi announced he would halt the country’s 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). The visit to Libya could be Putin’s last foreign trip as president after he steps down in May to give way to his protege, Dmitry Medvedev. Putin will stay on as premier. (