An envoy leading Moscow's efforts to help end the war in Libya departed for Tripoli today for talks with senior officials in Muammar Gaddafi's government, Russian media reported.
Mikhail Margelov, President Dmitry Medvedev's special representative for Africa, plans to meet Libya's prime minister, foreign minister and other cabinet members.
"Clearly the talks in Tripoli will not be easy," Interfax and state-run Itar-Tass quoted Margelov as saying.
Last week, when he was awaiting a NATO transport corridor to enable him to make the trip, Margelov told reporters that Medvedev had not instructed him to meet Gaddafi. But he said before departing that he was "ready for any meetings".
Margelov, who met Libyan rebel leaders in Benghazi earlier this month, said he believes they could agree to let Gaddafi remain in Libya if he gives up power and stays out of politics, the Interfax news agency reported.
"In the Arab world there is a tradition of forgiveness and conciliation, and many formerly odious leaders of regimes in the region continue to live in their countries as private individuals despite having been overthrown," he was quoted as saying.
Gaddafi has said he would die rather than leave Libya.
Aided by Western air strikes, Libyan rebels fighting to end Gaddafi's 41-year rule have pushed deeper into government-held territory in western Libya but remained a considerable way from his main stronghold in Tripoli.
Russia supported an initial UN Security Council resolution imposing sanctions on Gaddafi, and Medvedev issued a decree barring him from Russia.
Russia then abstained in the March vote on a second resolution that authorised military intervention, and has accused the NATO-led coalition conducting air strikes of going beyond its mandate to protect civilians.
At the G8 summit last month, Medvedev joined Western partners in urging Gaddafi to step down, offered to help mediate and said Margelov would be point man for those efforts.
Russia's actions have jeopardised its clout with Gaddafi's government as well as billions of dollars in arms, energy and transport deals. Analysts say its peacemaking efforts are driven in part by the desire for influence in the future.