It Will Be a While Before Russian Diplomats Return to Tripoli

October 7, 2013
Фото: REUTERS/Esam Omran Al-Fetori

Russia has evacuated its diplomatic staff in Libya after armed men attacked one of their embassies last week, in response to the apparent killing of a Libyan Air Force officer by a Russia citizen. Below is a translation from the pro-Kremlin agency Izvestia. – Ed.

Russian diplomats, urgently evacuated from Lybia because of the attack of an armed mob on October 3, will return to Tripoli only after the situation stabilizes. That is according to the statement by Ivan Molotkov, the Russian Ambassador to Libya, who pointed to inability of the local authorities to ensure total security of the embassy staff and their families. According to experts, a complete normalization of the situation in Libya cannot be expected in the near future.

“This incident is just one of the many cases of violent crowds’ attacks on diplomatic missions of foreign countries. It goes to show that since the overthrow in 2011 of Muammar Gaddafi, law and order have never been restored, and the army and the police are so weak that they cannot resist the armed groups.” This is how Hannah Salem, an expert on Libya from Human Rights Watch, described the situation in the country.

Last year, a similar attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi claimed the life of Ambassador Christopher Stevens. In January, a car carrying the Italian consul Guido de Sanctis was shot at in Benghazi. Over the past six months embassies of France and UAE have been attacked.

According to Sergey Demidenko, an expert of the Institute of Strategic Studies and Analysis, most often it is the result of local factions fighting for their turf. For example, the current attack, in which the whole diplomatic mission was forced to flee, was caused only by resentment and revenge.

The local media reported the murder of a Libyan Air Force officer by Ekaterina Ustyuzhaninova, who is a Russian citizen. About 60 people gathered for a protest outside the embassy of the Russian Federation. The demonstration ended in burning of an embassy vehicle and assault on the embassy. The diplomats were forced to barricade themselves in the building, and the attack and the ensued shootout between the attackers and the Libyan security forces resulted in killing of two of the attackers. As a source in the Russian Foreign Ministry told Izvestia, the decision to evacuate the embassy staff was made in Moscow, and before leaving the building the diplomats destroyed classified documents.

“The mere fact that some small group was not afraid of the consequences, and dared to attack an embassy of a major state, such as Russia, tells you how aggravated the security situation in Libya has become,” said Demidenko. “The security situation there will only get worse because of the inability of the government to mobilize law enforcement agencies. Chances are that Libya will gradually turn into a second Somalia.”

The country is already divided into zones of influence between different tribes, of which only large ones number about 120, not including medium and small [tribes]. There is a feud going on between some of them including Misurata, Qaddafa and Warfalla. The territory is divided between Islamist groups and criminal gangs into zones of influence. And their same attitude towards foreigners is equally bad, says Demidenko.

“Well, they never liked Russians, anyway,” said the expert. “During Soviet times some of them thought we were colonizers, and some considered us apostates. The aid was accepted with clenched teeth. But once we stopped giving money, they fell out with us completely.”

The Russian embassy staff and their families (52 people) have returned to Moscow aboard an Emergencies Ministry plane taking off at night from the airport on the island of Djerba. A working group of a few people remained in Tunisia to maintain contact with the Libyan authorities.

“The decision to evacuate through Djerba was taken because it is the nearest airport to the Tunisian border. In addition, this option has been tested, in particular during the conflict in Libya in 2011. It is through this point the humanitarian aid was delivered,” Konstantin Klimovsky, the Minister-Counsellor of the Russian Embassy in Tunisia, told Izvestiya. “Those who remained in Tunisia will be accommodated in the capital and we will ensure their normal operations to monitor the situation in Libya. Relations with that country continue.”