Sovereign Libya: A letter to Vladimir Putin

Russian leader’s opposition to international action against Gaddafi’s regime is motivated by economic interests.

Vladimir Putin
Libya’s vast oil reserves have caught the eye of many Western nations [GALLO/GETTY]

Recently, you elaborated on your previous objections to the UN-sanctioned intervention in Libya. In doing so, you conveniently glossed over the atrocities committed by the Gaddafi regime, recasting it as an innocent victim of foreign aggression. You asked: “When the so-called civilised community, with all its might, pounces on a small country, and ruins infrastructure that has been built over generations – well, I don’t know, is this good or bad?”

What, then, should be said of a despot who pounces on his own population, killing and maiming thousands and destroying the infrastructure that he has neglected for decades? Should he be permitted to slaughter civilians with impunity? After all, we Arabs prefer that sort of ruler, as you suggested.

“Look at the map of this region, there are monarchies all around,” you said. “What do you think they are – Danish-style democracies? No. There are monarchies everywhere, and this basically corresponds with the mentality of the people, as well as long-standing practice.” 

How right you are to affirm our “long-standing practice” of despotic rule. And how convenient that you chose to disregard the “mentality” of millions of people throughout the Arab world who have demonstrated for democracy, human rights, dignity – and for an end to these “monarchies”. To say nothing of the thousands who have paid for these calls with their lives speaks volumes.

You expressed concern that the intervention violated Libya’s sovereignty, and that it went against the wishes of the Libyan people. But who are you, Mr Putin, to speak about the wishes of the Libyan people? And at what cost should this notion of “national sovereignty” be defended? I highly doubt that most Libyans subscribe to the twisted logic that regards the sovereignty of an illegitimate ruler as sacrosanct, particularly after your said “sovereign” decides to exterminate large numbers of his own population.

“I do not like it,” you said of the intervention. In that case, please accept our sincerest apologies. Perhaps the Libyan people and the international community should have considered your feelings when deciding how to react to the gunning down of protesters from Tripoli to Benghazi; and to the massacre at Az Zawiya, the bombardment of Misurata, and the positioning of Gaddafi’s tanks on Benghazi’s doorstep.

Weeks ago, you likened the intervention to a medieval call to crusade. You intentionally utilised a loaded term in a transparent attempt to manipulate the sensitivities of Muslims and Arabs, who still associate it with the slaughter of thousands at the hands of European invaders beginning in the 11th century. Knowing your impeccable record of supporting peace and justice, I’m sure you would have been the first to object to the Crusades on moral grounds.

On the subject of Muslim sensitivities, I can’t help but wonder how you felt about the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and the atrocities committed there? About its engagement in that decade-long proxy war with the United States, resulting in the loss of countless lives and the destruction of that “small country’s” infrastructure?  And I can’t help but wonder about your position regarding Russia’s treatment of the Chechen people, and its denial of their aspirations for independence and self-determination?

I’m afraid, Mr Putin, that neither you nor the Russian state has the credibility or the moral authority to levy the accusation of “Crusader” against anyone. Perhaps you should heed the advice of President Medvedev and refrain from attempting to inflame the sensitivities of Muslims and Arabs to serve your own purposes.  

You raise the issue of Libya’s vast oil reserves and remark sarcastically, “could this be the main subject of interest to those who are operating there?” Of course it is, Mr Putin, congratulations on stating the obvious, but spare us your self-righteous hypocrisy.

No reasonable person is suggesting that Western nations aren’t motivated to some extent by selfish interests in Libya, but please do not pretend that you have the interests of the Libyan people at heart, or that your opposition to international action against the Libyan regime is not equally motivated by Russian economic interests in the country.

Weeks ago, your ambassador to Libya, Vladimir Chamov, called the impending intervention, “a betrayal of Russian interests”. While Sergei Chemezov, director of the Russian state company in charge of weapons exports, warned that Russian companies stood to lose billions of dollars in cancelled weapons contracts.

How unfortunate that these contracts will probably be lost, and that Russian-manufactured arms will no longer find their way into the capable and responsible hands of the Gaddafi regime and its thugs. We deeply regret any inconvenience our country’s revolution may have caused you and your business partners.

If it’s any consolation, though, the Libyan people would be more than happy to send the colonel to Siberia for his retirement. We know what a big fan you are.

Najla Abdurrahman, a Libyan-American writer and activist, is a doctoral student in Columbia University’s Department of Middle Eastern, South, Asian, and African Studies.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.