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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 entrepôt 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
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
(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 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