Interview with Richard Sakwa, Professor of Russian and European politics at the University of Kent.
The TV channel quoted Libyan government reports as saying that attacks carried out late on Monday had killed many civilians. Can you tell us what the exact death toll is at present?
I have no idea, I do not think anybody knows, clearly there is a view of the western media, certainly of the British media, is that Gaddafi has been exaggerating the civilian death toll, and of course, in the British media there have been many reports about the fact that civilians have been deliberately put in the firing land.
US President Barack Obama has reiterated US demands for Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi to step down. He insists Gaddafi needs to go. So if Gaddafi stepped down, who would be the Libyan leader, do you see any candidate for this role?
It is exceptionally difficult because Gaddafi has dominated the country for 42 years, and he has not really allowed a political opposition to develop. However the former Prime Minister is one candidate, and so there are some figures, possibly, for example those Libyan diplomats who resigned their posts at the United Nations at the beginning of the crisis. However as we saw with the Benghazi opposition that even faced by a military conflict they were unable to establish a clear line of command. So Gaddafi’s departure would leave a huge vacuum and it would be extremely hard to reconstitute a solid government in these conditions, especially given the western intervention at this time.
How do you estimate Gaddafi’s state power at present?
Well, it is very shaky, clearly. It is simply what we didn’t know until the beginning of the events a month ago is just how unpopular he was, the deep depth of resistance, even some of the tribal leaders – as you know, the political system in Libya is still very tribal – have opposed him, that Gaddafi has been able to rule for so many years by dividing and ruling and incorporating these various regional leaders, and most of them accept now that it is time for him to go.
Do you believe that Libya can become a democracy?
Absolutely, any country can become a democracy, however democracy is not an absolute, it is always a relative condition, it always has to be responsive to native traditions, and indeed, any attempt to impose democracy is always going to make it fragile; democracy has to emerge, either from an evolutionary genetic process if you like, as we see it in many of the post-communist countries, this is undoubtedly the case. However there is no particular reason why Libya or any other country cannot become a democracy. But remember that democracy has to be at the same time in the modern world responsive to certain liberal conditions: a quality of citizenship, a quality of human rights, for men and women, etc. So how liberal a democracy will be? Because democracy is not simply about majority rule, it is about limiting power as much as facilitating it.
Russian Prime-Minister Vladimir Putin on Monday likened the UN Security Council resolution on Libya to medieval crusade call. What do you think of this?
I can understand concerns of the Russian Prime-Minister. Clearly, the resolution 1973 was sanctioning only a relatively limited intervention, a no-fly zone, and clearly the circumstances on the ground changed quite fast given the fact that Gaddafi didn’t not maintain his own declared ceasefire and continued the attack against Benghazi. On the other hand, it is unclear to me, how civilized states can sit on the sidelines and see the leader Gaddafi continuing an attack against defenseless citizens who after 42 years of rule have risen up in a revolution, – not a revolt, – a revolution, for just an equal citizenship. I think the situation on the ground is far more complicated, of course, that huge matter of concern; because if today we do not like Gaddafi and the Libyan leadership, and perhaps then we will not like the Iranian leadership, or perhaps we do not even like the French leadership, so where will the intervention stop? Veto is not an excuse not to intervene when you have a genuine humanitarian disaster unfolding in front of you.
The air strikes seriously damaged Libya’s air defense systems as well as part of Gaddafi’s residential compound in Tripoli, media report said. Do you see a possibility for a ground operation in the near future?
We know that the western leaders have excluded that, however we do know that for example the British have prepared some military units for perhaps a limited ground intervention. I do not think the intervention would be so much to conduct military operations, I think they designed perhaps to support the revolutionaries, if you like, and also to provide humanitarian assistance in due course such as food, because as you know the food supply system has collapsed, there is hunger, there is shortage of water; there is genuine lack of power and social organization. So we would hope that once Gaddafi has gone there would be some troops supporting and helping the civilians.
Gaddafi said he started arming people in his country to fight against the foreign aggression; he also added he wouldn’t give up, he would rather die. So how do you think the situation is going to develop?
You are absolutely right. Gaddafi now knows that he has no alternative, that he did have a chance to go to Venezuela or somewhere at the beginning, he failed to take this opportunity and now it is a fight to the death. His language is exactly that of Adolph Hitler in the last months of the Second World War, that he preferred to destroy his country and to go down in catastrophe rather than to save his own people and to go quietly. So yes, it is bad now and it is going to get worse, because he will not give up, he will sacrifice his own people in this pointless attempt to continue, because basically his rule is over. As far as Russia is concerned, there is not so much to lose – they abstained in the UN resolution, I think this was a very wise thing to do, to be quite honest. I think it is better for the Libyan people by far for Gaddafi now to go and for some new democratic administration to be established as a successor to him.