In a surprise move, Russia took the side of Britain and France over Libya for the first time yesterday, calling for the Middle-East despot to leave office.

Russia, a vocal critic of NATO's military campaign in Libya, said Thursday that it's the G8 had asked it to take on a mediation role in resolving the crisis.

The final G8 declaration contained tougher-than-expected language

[Gaddafi] has no future in a free, democratic Libya. He must go. Sergei Ryabkov, the deputy Russian foreign minister, went farther, saying: We think that Gaddafi has stripped himself of his legitimacy and it is necessary to help him leave.

It was unclear, however, whether President Dmitry Medvedev would undertake such mediation and officials from other G8 delegations at a summit in France declined immediate comment.

(Medvedev's) partners in all bilateral meetings called on Russia to assume a mediation mission in Libya, the Russian president's spokeswoman, Natalia Timakova, told reporters.

In March, the country's position on Libya opened a rare rift in the Kremlin with Vladimir Putin, the Russian Prime Minister, comparing the UN-backed mission to medieval crusades and President Medvedev describing his remark as unacceptable.

Russia's huge trading ties with Libya, in particular its arms trade worth an estimated S4 billion.

NATO countries, led by France and Britain, are bombing Libya under the U.N. mandate to protect civilians as Muammar Gaddafi's army battles rebel forces intent on ending the Libyan leader's 41-year rule.

Medvedev held bilateral meetings with U.S. President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy during the G8's annual summit.

Separately, G8 countries pledged over $12 billion pledge in aid, loans and debt relief in an attempt to support and enhance pro-democratic regimes in North Africa. While the full details of the package are yet unknown, the money will come from international financial institutions as well as  members of the G8.

The aid package however will not come without strings attached as further steps to democracy will be one of the main conditions.

The overthrow of Mubarak and Ben Ali ended an era in both countries but also marked the beginning of what is expected to be a long and chaotic transition. With widespread corruption and failing institutions in both countries the future for both countries remains far from certain.