Kremlin aided Libya as Moscow courted the West

Click to follow
MOSCOW - As Mikhail Gorbachev wooed the West, the Communist Party he headed was shielding Libya's Muammar Gaddafi from the US Sixth Fleet and providing clandestine military training to foreign nationals.

Top-secret Central Committee documents from 1987 to 1990 paint a detailed portrait of Kremlin meddling. The material was assembled as part of the Russian post-Communist government's legal case against the party. Government experts say they have no doubt of its authenticity.

The party, led by President Gorbachev, ordered the KGB to train and illegally repatriate a Paraguayan leftist leader, donated scarce newsprint to French Communists and supplied the African National Congress with unnamed 'special goods'. Other operations included a secret 'course of military training' for 44 Communists and socialists from Chile and Argentina. Irish comrades and the British Communist daily, the Morning Star, received cash.

Most intriguing, however, was the party's hand in protecting President Gaddafi, then embroiled in military and political brinksmanship with the United States. In January 1989, US warplanes downed two Soviet-built Libyan MiG-23 aircraft over the Mediterranean. Washington said it was legitimate self-defence, while Libya denounced 'American agression'.

Three years before, US planes bombed Tripoli after the White House accused President Gaddafi of backing international terrorism. The two countries also clashed over access to the disputed Gulf of Sirte.

Moscow, an important arms supplier to Libya, walked a fine line - expressing public interest in close ties to President Gaddafi but increasingly becoming wary of being seen as backing international lawlessness. But the Central Committee authorised the creation of secret communications links between senior Libyans and the Soviet military.

The goal was to keep an eye on US naval forces off the Libyan coast, passing along spy-satellite data to President Gaddafi. 'The Libyan request is motivated by the need for urgent . . . information from the Soviet general staff about the situation around Libya and the activities of the US Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean,' the Defence Minister, Dmitry Yazov, wrote in a covering letter. He said long-standing ties to Libya and what he said was dollars 20bn ( pounds 10.6bn) worth of military and economic co-operation justified urgent approval.

A proposal from the Soviet Council of Ministers called for deployment of 120 military experts to install encrypting gear, a satellite earth station and radio communications. The KGB was to provide false covers for the expert team.

Moscow attached several strict conditions to the deal: Libya had to cover the expense of building and running the communications system; and all technology would remain under Soviet control.