MOSCOW: Russia sought on Thursday to portray an attack on its embassy in Libya as a settling of a personal score, and not as a blow to diplomatic and business ties with Tripoli.
Diplomatic sources in Libya said security guards fired shots to disperse a group of about 60 people who tried to storm the embassy on Wednesday. Russian agencies said the gunmen arrived in two vehicles before opening fire.
The attack highlighted the volatility in oil-producing Libya, two years after the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi, and the problems faced by his ally Russia as it tries to put billions of dollars' worth of energy and arms deals back on track.
Russian Foreign Ministry officials confirmed the attack had taken place. But there was no immediate statement condemning the violence, and Moscow appeared to be seeking to reduce any long-term impact.
"As far as I know, the situation came about because of personal reasons," a Kremlin source told Itar-Tass news agency. "Fortunately, none of the embassy staff was hurt."
The comment suggested that Russia was ready to accept the version of events outlined by a Libyan security source who said people in the crowd were angered by reports, which could not be confirmed, that a Russian woman had murdered a Libyan.
The Libyan source also said the attack did not appear to be directly linked to any militant group.
Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan and the country's foreign minister visited the diplomatic compound after the violence, which prompted Moscow to send embassy staff to the airport as a precaution.
Clan and tribal rivalries, as well as Islamist groups, have flourished in the absence of strong central government in Libya. Security services have struggled to maintain order.
Militant groups have staged a number of attacks on Western diplomats. Militants linked to al Qaeda affiliates attacked the U.S. consulate in Benghazi and killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans on Sept. 11, 2012.
"When Gaddafi was in charge, ties (between Libya and Russia) were good. He was buying our weapons and there was talk of a railroad (being built)," said Moscow-based analyst Georgy Mirsky.
Asked about the attack, he said: "This kind of thing happens all the time, there is no reason to exaggerate it."
Russia says it lost billions of dollars in arms deals after the fall of Libyan leader Gaddafi, who was captured and killed in October 2011 after months of civil war. The violence prompted Russian companies, which had pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into Libya's oil and natural gas sectors, to put their investments on hold.
The attack on the embassy occurred as a Russian delegation was planning to visit Libya to try to put commercial relations back on track, the head of a business council said.
"Unfortunately these kinds of things happen, not regularly, but they happen, but that doesn't mean you have to stop business. It shouldn't be a reason not to restart business and a relationship," Aram Shchegunts said.
In a sign that the situation may be improving, Tatneft , a mid-sized Russian oil producer which invested $200 million in Libyan oil exploration, reopened an office in Tripoli earlier this year. But it also said it was yet to restart production at Libyan oil fields.