The Global Security News: 1. US Security from Michael_Novakhov (88 sites): Eurasia Review: Moscow’s Hand In Libya – Analysis

By Carl Lampe *

(FPRI) — Khalifa Haftar, the leader of the Libyan National Army (LNA), has charged Tripoli to topple Fayez al-Sarraj, the Prime Minister of the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA). Since early April 2019, fighting has killed more than 300, wounded 1,600, and displaced approximately 40,000 Libyans. Now Libya is back in U.S. headlines; the last time it was this prominent was when the 2011 Arab Spring sparked a U.S.-sponsored NATO intervention that helped bring down the Libyan regime of Muammar Gaddafi. Afterward, in 2012, members of Ansar al-Sharia attacked a U.S. government compound in Benghazi, Libya, and killed John Christopher Stevens, the U.S. Ambassador to Libya, and three other Americans. Currently, the culmination of eight years of instability and unrest has the world watching regime change unfold in Libya for the second time in a decade. Russia saw the collapse of Gaddafi’s regime in 2011 as a blow to its political and economic interests. Today, the Kremlin will look to capitalize on the instability in Libya to strengthen its image as a power broker in the Middle East and North Africa, and to benefit economically from oil and government contracts.

In 2011, the U.S. assumed an integral
role in the NATO-led intervention to oust Gaddafi, which prevented mass
civilian murder but helped spiral the country into chaos. Russia could
have vetoed the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973, which NATO used to justify its intervention, but chose not to. For years, the U.S. has officially recognized the GNA as Libya’s official governing body. However, President Trump’s April 15th phone call
to Haftar signals the White House’s public shift to expressing support
for the LNA. Understanding the true dynamics of the playing field in
Libya is difficult since it is rarely obvious who each country supports
at any given time. Nevertheless, Russia has an interest in ensuring an
agreeable end-state for itself.

Russia remains invested in Libya’s
future because it views Libya as instrumental in supporting Russian
interests. These interests primarily include the economic benefits of
the so-called “guns for oil” trade, government contracts, bargaining
power against the EU, deep-sea port access on the Mediterranean,
extinguishing extremist Islamic threats abroad rather than inside its
borders, and the optics of Soviet-era influence
in the Middle East and Africa. Russian government officials have met
with various Libyan contacts to ensure that whoever controls the country
will support Russia’s goals. 

Despite being members of the UN Security
Council, which backs Sarraj, Russia and the U.S. have been friendly
toward the authoritarian leader Khalifa Haftar. But Russia has been
careful not to overcommit. According to Vasily Nebenyza, Russia’s
Permanent Representative to the UN, the Kremlin has avoided picking
winners and losers. Instead, Russia has presented itself as calling for
peace and stability in Libya. Haftar has travelled to Moscow more than three
times since 2016 for meetings predominantly with Russia’s Defense
Minister Sergei Shoigu and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. The General
was also aboard Russia’s Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft
carrier in the Mediterranean in 2017, where he spoke with Sergei Shoigu
via video conference. The Kremlin has not fully endorsed Haftar
publicly, despite providing material support for his coup. In March
2019, U.S. General Waldhauser stated
to the House Committee on Armed Services that “behind the scenes there
is no doubt about the fact they’ve [the Russians] supported the LNA with
all kinds of equipment, people, training and the like. And they’ve
supported Haftar.” Russia has not only reportedly strengthened Haftar’s
military with training but also printed Libyan dinars
to finance his cause. And Russia is forging ties with Egypt, which
shares an interest in Haftar for a different reason: he may be a
solution to Egypt’s western border security problem. Ultimately, the Kremlin cares about Haftar as long he supports Russian interests.

The stakes are high for Russia. It lost billions
when NATO overran Gaddafi’s regime in 2011, and now it wants its money
back. Semyon Bagdasarov, a representative in Russia’s State Duma,
explained in an interview with Pravda
that Haftar gives Russia the potential to recover, and even triple, the
$4 billion in oil and military contracts, which Russia lost when
Gaddafi was killed. “Libya has a long history of good relations with
Russia,” Haftar stated,
“I went to Moscow because I wanted to renew several contracts that were
interrupted in 2011.” Oil production is a leading economic
consideration for Russia, primarily in eastern Libya. Russian firms Tatneft, Gazprom, and Rosneft
view the region as a source of lucrative contracts. Ultimately, the
Kremlin will diversify its bets until it becomes clear who will control
Libya’s resources.

The U.S. and the international community must once again decide what to do in Libya. This time, Russia will be more disruptive to protect its interests. By publicly pushing for a political solution while quietly backing Haftar, the Kremlin hopes to look like it is cleaning up the United States’ post-2011 mess in Libya. If Russia helps restore some semblance of order, it can appear like a peace broker in the region, adding credibility to its critiques of U.S. foreign policy, and delegitimizing international institutions like NATO and the UN. In the near-term, the U.S. and the international community must apply pressure for a cease-fire and political negotiations.

*About the author: Carl Lampe is a spring research intern with FPRI. Carl holds a B.A. in History from Amherst College, where his research focused primarily on the Middle East and Russia.

Source: This article was published by FPRI

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