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Libya-Relations with the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe

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During the early years of Qadhafi's regime, Libya pursued a genuinely nonaligned policy. Qadhafi perceived Soviet imperialism to be as great a threat to Libya in the politico-economic sphere as Western hegemony. Furthermore, communism's atheism was antithetical to Qadhafi's religious beliefs. Qadhafi approved of the 1972 Egyptian expulsion of Soviet advisers and condemned the fifteenyear Iraqi-Soviet friendship pact signed the same year.

Nevertheless, the Soviet Union, anticipating potential benefits from cultivating the newly established regime in Tripoli, quickly extended recognition three days after the coup. Notwithstanding the RCC's suppression of local communist elements and its strident anticommunist rhetoric, the Soviets viewed with satisfaction the regime's gradually increasing anti-Western orientation. After it was obliged to withdraw Soviet personnel from Egypt in 1972, the Soviet Union's interest in Libya heightened significantly. When the Western powers stopped selling arms to Libya in 1974, the first Soviet arms sale to Qadhafi was concluded in December of that year.

A major arms deal was concluded between Libya and the Soviet Union in 1975, costly enough that it apparently necessitated reductions in spending on social welfare and economic development. However, Libya denied reports in the Egyptian press and elsewhere that the agreement granted the Soviet Union military bases on Libyan territory. As of 1987, these denials appeared to have been truthful, although reportedly around 3,500 Soviet and East European military advisers were stationed in Libya (see Foreign Military Assistance , ch. 5). Libya's arms purchases, which by 1987 had far exceeded the needs of its small armed forces, led some observers to conclude that Libya was serving as an entrepĂ´t for weapons destined for other points in Africa in which the Soviet Union was involved. But Libya's military debt to Moscow, estimated in 1986 at US$4 to US$6 billion, continued to be a source of difficulty in bilateral relations.

Libya also has negotiated numerous economic, commercial, and cultural agreements with the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Agreements involving the exchange of Libyan oil for technical expertise and equipment have been made with Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, the German Democratic Republic (East Germany), and Yugoslavia. East European countries also have contributed a significant number of medical personnel to Libya's health care program (see Medical Care , ch. 2). In addition, the East Germans have played a key role in the late 1970s and 1980s in Libya's domestic intelligence field. Libya also has economic agreements with Romania but ties have been strained because of the latter's relatively cordial relationship with Israel.

Libyan-Soviet relations improved during the 1980s because both countries opposed the American-sponsored Middle East peace process. The Soviet Union was opposed primarily because of its lack of a role in the negotiations, but Libya considered the 1978 Camp David accords as a betrayal of long-standing Arab and Palestinian aspirations. In view of the wide ideological gulf and policy differences between the two nations, the Soviet-Libyan relationship has been based primarily on mutual self-interest. Libya needed a source of arms and a counterbalance to the growing United StatesEgyptian alliance. For the Soviet Union, Libya was an important source of hard currency (it was estimated that Libyan weapons purchases in 1980 represented 10 percent of Soviet hard-currency earnings), an irritant to its Western superpower rival, and a potentially useful destabilizer of the regional status quo.

Although the Libyan-Soviet relationship continued to be close in the 1980s, Qadhafi was far too independent to be a submissive protegé, despite his dependence on Moscow for military hardware. Instead, he insisted on following his own vision in domestic and international affairs. Many of his beliefs conflicted with Soviet doctrines. For example, Qadhafi's Third Universal Theory conflicted with the Marxist tenets of class warfare and the vanguard role of the proletariat.

The lack of effective Soviet support to Libya during and after the United States raid in April 1986 underlined Moscow's reluctance to risk a confrontation with Washington by supporting Qadhafi too strongly. It was reported that the Soviets withheld vital intelligence information from Libya during the confrontation in the Gulf of Sidra. Moscow, however, reportedly was embarrassed by the ineffectiveness of Libya's Soviet-supplied air defenses.

Data as of 1987

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