By Steve Gutterman
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia recognized Libya's ruling interim council as the country's legitimate authority on Thursday, moving to increase its influence on postwar reconstruction and protect its economic interests in the oil-producing North African nation.
"The Russian Federation recognises the National Transitional Council (NTC) as the current authorities," the Russian Foreign Ministry said on its website www.mid.ru.
Russia, which was critical of NATO's operation in Libya, announced its decision as leaders and envoys from world powers and international bodies gathered in Paris to coordinate Libya's political and economic reconstruction.
Moscow had billions of dollars worth of arms, energy and infrastructure deals with Libya under its deposed leader Muammar Gaddafi, and Russian officials have expressed concern they could be lost in the transition.
"We proceed from the position that all previously agreed treaties and other mutual obligations ... will be implemented in good faith," the Foreign Ministry said.
Russia allowed Western military intervention in Libya to go ahead by abstaining from a U.N. Security Council resolution vote in March, but then repeatedly accused NATO forces carrying out air strikes of overstepping their mandate to protect civilians and of siding with anti-Gaddafi forces in the civil war.
President Dmitry Medvedev, however, joined Western nations in urging Gaddafi to give up power and made clear he could not seek refuge in Russia.
Nonetheless, some in Libya have signaled that the new authorities could slight nations like Russia and China in favor of those that gave more support to Gaddafi's foes.
Russia's representative at the Paris talks, Medvedev's special Africa envoy Mikhail Margelov, said he was confident that would not happen.
"I don't think the new government of Libya will start off by evaluating contracts with Russia on political rather than technical and economic criteria," the Interfax news agency quoted Margelov as saying.
Last week, Medvedev called for talks between Gaddafi's backers and opponents, and suggested that Russia would recognize the NTC if it was able to "unite the country for a new democratic start."
The Foreign Ministry statement urged the council to carry out its "declared reform program, which calls for the development of a new constitution, the holding of general elections and the formation of a government."
Russia's NATO envoy, Dmitry Rogozin, warned on Wednesday that unity among anti-Gaddafi forces would not last and said further Western military intervention was likely.
"As soon as the common enemy is defeated, the opposition will unavoidably meet with internal disagreements," Rogozin told Russia Today television.
"And I am certain that at that moment certain Western countries will try to provide themselves with a military presence in order to get control over Libya's oil reserves."
Russian companies Gazprom, Gazprom Neft and Tatneft have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in oil and gas exploration in Libya.
State-run Russian Railways was building a high-speed railway from Sirte to Benghazi on Libya's Mediterranean coast under a 2.2 billion euro ($3 billion) contract awarded during Gaddafi's rule.
(Writing by Steve Gutterman; editing by Thomas Grove and Tim Pearce)