Russia in Libya, A Driver for Escalation?
Finally a spot on investigative and analytical piece about the role Russia is playing in the high politics surrounding Libya and if Putin has his endgame figure out or not. Writing in the Carnegie Institute’s Sada Journal, Mattia Toaldo and Tarek Megrisi have hit the nail on the head connecting military assistance, commercial help, and diplomatic support.
The first example of cooperation came in May, when the governor of the Eastern Central Bank orchestrated the shipment of 4 billion Libyan dinars($2.9 billion) from Goznac, the official mint of the Kremlin. Hafter and his allies found an obliging partner in Russia to assuage their worsening liquidity crisis and display their competence as governors of Cyrenaica. Russia received reprimands from Western nations, which acquiesced when they realized that they could not stop the shipment—sending a message to Russia that, at present, pursuing unilateralism in Libya has no consequences…. In late September, Badri went to Moscow with a request from Haftar to “start an anti-Islamist military operation in Libya that is similar to the one in Syria,” and Bogdanov told journalists that he would “carefully consider” any request by Libyan authorities for “Russian participation in operations against terrorists.” In late November, Haftar again went to Moscow to push Russia to help lift the UN arms embargo on Libya….
Russian support for Haftar in Libya is a continuation of this strategy of backing a military leader who, with the right narrative of combating Islamism and terrorism, both requires their help and is well-positioned to facilitate Russia’s own regional goals. If Egypt is any indication, a successful alliance with Libya augurs not only lucrative construction and military contracts—including allowing Russian naval vessels to use Benghazi’s port, as Muammar al-Qaddafi had agreed to in 2008, and potentially to use an airbase near Benghazi—but much more importantly a consolidated and expanded Russian presence in the central Mediterranean, giving its military closer access to Europe and to U.S. bases in Sicily. Moreover, propping up Haftar would not create much of a stir in Washington in light of President-elect Donald Trump’s preference for authoritarian anti-Islamist regimes. The Trump administration already includes officials, such as new National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, who align with Russia’s Middle Eastern policies and want to refocus U.S. action to narrow counterterrorism efforts and away from stabilization efforts like the UN-led Libyan political process. Unlike Hillary Clinton, Trump has no interest in rolling back Russia’s influence in the region and very little appetite for supporting a unity government in Tripoli….
Heavy Russian support for Haftar could kill the political process by removing his need to negotiate with the GNA, which would be counterproductive to Russia’s stated aims of countering terrorism. Haftar is likely incapable of stabilizing all of Libya, despite his ambitions, and any advance westward would bring him in conflict with myriad armed groups who see him as an existential threat. This would lead either to escalation or more anarchy, neither of which is conducive to containing jihadism.
To read the whole article click here.