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Russia in Libya

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] A [/yt_dropcap] few days ago the press reported that dozens of Russian military “contractors”, supplied by the RSB Group, were already operating in Eastern Libya to remove mines from the areas around Benghazi, in a region recently freed from jihadists by the armed forces of Khalifa Haftar, who ever more seems to be the pivot of Russian geopolitics in Libya. These reports run by the press are of great strategic relevance.

After all Russia does not want to commit the primary mistake made by the United Nations and Western countries, that is to choose – from the outset – their “horse” in the person of the weak Fajez al-Sarraj.

In fact Tripoli’s leader was invited to Russia in early March 2017. On that occasion Vladimir Putin clearly told him that Russia was present in Libya to remedy the UN and NATO “barbaric aggression” of 2011 and that it wanted to help all parties – namely al-Sarraj’s GNA, as well as Khalifa al-Ghawil’s government and the other non-jihadist factions – to “rebuild the Libyan State.”

Russia does not want to bring imaginative “democracies”, but it wants to rebuild the Libyan State against the jihad and establish a positive economic and strategic relationship with the Russian Federation.

Certainly Russia does not want a “Western protectorate” in all or part of Libya.

Moreover, from the US viewpoint, it should be noted that Daesh-Isis has not yet been defeated either in Libya or elsewhere, considering that the US or the other allies’ air strikes have certainly “reduced” – but not fully eliminated – the Caliphate’s offensive potential in the Sirte region. It should also be noted that, in the near future, Daesh-Isis will certainly join forces with the Al-Qaeda network, thus recreating its military bases and activities by means of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb or the Qaedist networks of Sudan and sub-Saharan Africa.

A strategic and territorial continuity stretching from the Sirte region up to the Boko Haram’s networks in Nigeria.

Furthermore, both the United States and its allies have put in place – in Libya and against Isis – a strategy which is bound to fail: Westerners have supported their allied Libyan factions on the ground and have only tried to eliminate the leaders of the terrorist organization with targeted actions.

Leaders come and go, while the great organizational and military networks of the jihad must be definitely broken and not just “contained”.

The guerrilla warfare or jihad are not based on the number of their militants, but on the quality of their actions.

A “containment” logic which cannot work in the presence of autonomous regional systems and global allies, such as the other NATO countries.

Everyone has its own project: Italians want the ENI oil, which is theirs, and they want to avoid mass migration originating from the Libyan coast. The French people want the Italian oil and the Mediterranean military network of the old Gaddafi’s Libya. The Germans are not very interested in the issue. However, what about the Americans? We do not know yet exactly what they want.

In any case, proxies, namely the small regional allies, must not be used to fight our wars and secure our interests.

In the case of Libya, finally the issue lies in avoiding it becoming the reference point of the whole jihad, a few nautical miles from Italy and, hence, from Europe and from the Atlantic Alliance’s military bases.

Therefore it is enough for Isis to stand still – while the Libyan non-jihadist factions fight each other and the United States decides to help one group or the other fighting also Isis – and then rise again undisturbed when the American aid ceases and the local militias go away or are too weak to react and fight back.

Meanwhile, the Russian Federation – through Rosneft – has signed an oil deal with the Libyan NOC, considering that Russia is well aware of the fact that – even after the completion of the current de-globalization phase – oil will be the key asset, the “absolute commodity” – just to put it in Karl Marx’s words – also in the future.

In other words, Russia is operating in Libya more or less in the way in which it has succeeded in entering the great Syrian game, that is mainly by means of the evident big mistakes made by Western powers.

In Syria, the United States, at first, and then all its allies, ever less able to implement a real foreign policy or to think strategically, have supported “moderate Islamists” – always assuming that this expression has a meaning – only to overthrow Bashar al-Assad and recreate, also in Syria, the silly chaos following the “Arab springs”.

The idea that it is enough to send a “tyrant” away – possibly with a few artfully manipulated demonstrations – to solve everything, is frankly ridiculous.

It is geopolitics typical of 1968-inspired activists who aged badly.

If you had permanently destabilized Syria, Iran would have intervened immediately – as, indeed, it did later jointly with Russians and the Alawites of Assad’ Syrian Arab Army – not to mention what would have happened in the Lebanon and, hence, in Israel.

Therefore Russia immediately sensed the Westerners’ silly naivety and came into play, thus winning the game.

The same is happening also in Libya: NATO and the United Nations strenuously defend the GNA of al-Sarraj, who just rules in the palace where his government is established and pays a high price for the support of some militias (indeed, a price we pay).

Conversely Russia will be the welcome and credible broker, the mediator who will put an end to the tension between al-Sarraj and Khalifa Haftar, by interacting with both of them and thus rebuilding a stable central area for the future reconstruction of the Libyan State.

Meanwhile, an ally of the Russian Federation, namely Egypt, is managing an agreement among all Libyan factions, which envisages general elections to be held in February 2018.

If Russia supports the project, the chances of going to the polls are very high.

Maybe Haftar himself will play the Russian card also to have credible support from the new US President, but probably the Head of “Operation Dignity” does not want to reach a deal with al-Sarraj, but only wait for the leader, who is too much loved by Westerners and the United States, to weaken further.

In fact, the meeting between Haftar and Fajez al-Sarraj, scheduled in Cairo on February 14, did not take place, precisely due to Haftar’s refusal to meet with the GNA leader.

Therefore we can say that the Russian and Egyptian support to Haftar is inevitable, considering the GNA government’s increasing weakness and evident factionalism, but it also enables the Head of “Operation Dignity” to believe in a victory on the battlefield, which would make the current political negotiations useless.

Nobody is interested in giving Libya to another Rais.

The operation that freed the city of Sirte from ISIS, known as “Al Bunyan Al Marsous” finally saw many factions – particularly from Misrata and even some Salafists opposed to the Caliphate – operating on the ground.

The United States and its Western allies supported the “Al Bunyan Al Marsous” operation mainly with air bombings. In fact the Americans made at least 300 strikes with their Air Force, while Great Britain trained and supported Misrata forces and Italy built a field hospital for the wounded in action.

In that case, however, the Westerners’ goal was not so much to fight against Isis, which is considered a too strong and localized power, but rather to support al-Sarraj by securing for him control over an important city such as Misrata.

In other words, the West must stop playing with only one Libyan ally, but it must rather combine – as much as possible – the military activities and operations of all Libyan factions, as well as support some local leaders’ efforts in building a united, but decentralized, State so as to avoid counting – in the future – the losers and the winners of the long war between factions. The West must also support the new State financially, possibly with aid and with particularly friendly oil deals, and finally avoid the future recurrence of the asymmetry between Tripolitania and Cyrenaica, with the East believing – rightly or wrongly – to be marginalized.

Meanwhile, Russia will have its military bases in Cyrenaica, which will serve to marginalize NATO and control the North African hinterland.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr. Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “

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Russia, Ukraine And The Disputed Crimean Peninsula

Dr. Matthew Crosston

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In this exclusive video for In Homeland Security, American Military University’s Dr. Matthew Crosston, Doctoral Programs, School of Security and Global Studies, discusses the tumultuous relationship between Russia and Ukraine since the 2014 ‘Maidan Revolution’ and how each nation, the United States, and NATO all view the disputed peninsula of Crimea. There is a transcript of the video below.

Transcript of Dr. Crosston’s Analysis:

If we’re looking at the Russian Ukrainian conflict, sort of en mass, going back to its beginning foundation, for Russia at least it starts with the Maidan Revolution – or even the precursors to what created the Maidan Revolution. And, that’s something that we get a little bit of a debate or a discussion in the West about. The Russians feel that the West sort of made some sneaky promises behind the scenes to Ukraine – the people who would ultimately lead this revolution and cause the sitting president to flee to Russia and have a new president come in and take his place who was much more EU-friendly much more-NATO friendly much less Russian friendly. The Russians always saw some subterfuge in that action. They never saw it as a natural organic revolution. They always saw it as an example of Western interference, and they – therefore – felt justified to say well if you can interfere, we’re going to interfere because if you’re just playing out your interests on the ground in Ukraine why can’t we play out our interests on the ground in Ukraine?

Besides, we also think Ukraine is a better partner to us and should be a bigger compatriot of our interest because we have religious, cultural, historical ties. No matter how you try to play it in the West, Ukraine and Russia should not be at odds against each other, Ukraine and Russia should not be enemies. They are the more natural allies. And in the end since you’re making false promises we’re going to find out how much you really mean it when you tell Ukraine secretly whisper-whisper behind our backs [saying] don’t listen to Russia don’t do anything about Russia. Come to us instead. Ukraine really believed in that the people who led the Maidan Revolution believe that would happen. So then what we call the annexation of Crimea (but yet in Russia they call the secession of Crimea into the Russian Federation because the people in Crimea held a referendum saying we want to be part of Russia) – we don’t want to be part of Ukraine anymore. We portray that as being Russia forced that on Crimea. The Russians say the Crimeans voiced their political will, and we back them up – which is what you guys in the West didn’t do for Ukraine when we did it.

The Kerch Strait

What’s above the Kerch Strait – which never gets played in Western media – is this massive eight-lane superhighway that actually the Russians built and had actually in place as a as an agreement and was already begun to be built before the Maidan Revolution and is now complete. What it does is it connects as a land bridge – it connects from Rostov in Russia and over into Crimea. So that you don’t have to go through Ukraine at all to get into Crimea. That’s where those naval vessels were;  that’s where the Russians they were getting near the bridge – without any knowledge or any announcement of anything preordained.

So, the Russians said ‘what are you doing here?’ Ukrainians don’t answer. And, the Russians start playing with it, and they said ‘well we’ll see how tough you really are … you really going to use these naval ships? Are you really going to do an action here? That’s why the Russians call it a provocation. And, in the West – we say the Russians are just making up the word ‘provocation’ because these vessels weren’t doing anything. But, we are ignoring how the perspective of the Russians – near this massive land bridge (that literally now connects Russia to Crimea), how would they interpret the presence of military vessels unannounced with no declared plan of action – just this sort of mysterious presence? They did what most countries probably would do, but what they did goes against our interests, so therefore we have a problem with Russia’s actions.

No World War 3 Imminent

Russia has seen – really, quite frankly – since the 90s (with Clinton) this sort of slow very gradual encroachment where more and more members of what they used to consider their sphere of influence or their regional neighborhood (the Russian regional neighborhood) more and more people become part of NATO. But the one part they’ve always laid out is like the parts that have always sort of been Russian, and you can’t underestimate what Ukraine means to Russians in their memory as far as their historical cultural and even religious memory – that area Ukraine and Russia has always been tied together. So that might be the red line (no pun intended) for the Russians drawn in the sand – Ukraine will not go to NATO – will stand up against that. And, I think maybe the possibility was that NATO thought ‘well let’s test that a little bit because maybe they’re saying it of course we understand why you say we need machismo on that, you need some bravado on that, but let’s see if you really mean it.’ And, as it turns out, the Russians said ‘yeah, we do really mean it. Now do you really mean it? Are you really going to come to bat for Ukraine if we step up?’ They stepped up, we stepped back. That sounds bad but it’s not World War 3, and won’t be World War 3 because it means the two big sides – the two big players (Russia and the United States) – are declaring: Ukraine is enough for us to get into [inconsequential] fights over, [but] it’s not enough for us to get into a real war with each other over. And, that’s the part that’s going unsaid in the West that we should emphasize more.

Author’s note: This video first appeared at Homeland Security

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The Death of the ‘Lisbon to Vladivostok’ Project?

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Russian relations with Europe are part of a complicated story rooted in military, economic and often ideological realms. Both entities have for centuries tried to find a modus vivendi, but have so far failed. One compromise suggested for Europe and Russia was an economic space stretching from Lisbon to Vladivostok – the space characterized by a unified economy, political understanding and even deep military cooperation.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin for years advocated the idea, making speeches about the case. To be clear, Putin was not the first to propound it, but was merely reflecting on similar ideological arguments of the past. A transcontinental union spanning the Atlantic to the Pacific is a geopolitical concept that pops back up from time to time and is linked to neo-Eurasianism, before which the geopolitical space was made up by the triangle of Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia and Imperial Japan.

One space from Lisbon to Vladivostok, which one might also call “Greater Eurasia”, would make Russia pivot to the West. This was an attractive idea for the European and Russians. Indeed, even German Chancellor Angela Merkel once said that she hopes “Russia would increasingly develop ties with the European economic area, finally resulting in a common economic area from Lisbon to Vladivostok”.

How would such cooperation look? Perhaps it would imply at least a free trade agreement (FTA), whose core features might involve the cutting of tariffs and non-tariff barriers. Business interests in the EU as well as Russia are likely to be supportive of such a proposition. Putin stated that “in future, we could even consider a free trade zone or even more advanced forms of economic integration. The result would be a unified continental market with a capacity worth trillions of Euros”.

Surely when we talk about Russia in this context, we need to understand this space as including neighboring post-Soviet states. Russia launched its Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) project back in 2015.

One would think that for the EU, an FTA with the EAEU would be an advantageous proposition from an economic standpoint, since it would give preferential access to an important market. But one would expect the pre-conditions posed by the EU for the opening of negotiations to be many and quite stringent.

For Moscow, this positioning might be more economically advantageous, as the EEU could be a bridge for China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to connect with the European market. On the map, all appears logical and attractive, but in reality, China’s BRI, although not against being cooperative with other blocks, still aims at pulling major Eurasian resources towards itself. Russia’s EEU, weaker in dimension than the BRI, will inevitably be drawn to Beijing with growing grievances on the Russian side.

Back to the unified Russia-Europe economic space, there remains the fundamental question as to whether or not Russia would consider an FTA with the EU to be in its interests. Is the ‘Lisbon to Vladivostok’ idea serious? In Russia, many would fear that an FTA with the EU would be too imbalanced, or asymmetric in favor of the EU. Indeed, most Russian exports to the EU, such as oil and gas, are already being traded without tariffs. Also, the challenge for any petro-economy to sustain a substantial and competitive industrial sector would be a tough task to pull off.

So far, we have given a pretty rosy picture of the two stood regarding the project just several years ago, in the period before the Ukraine crisis.

When discussing Russian geopolitical moves, one needs to remember how important Ukraine is and how the latter has been a driving factor in Russia’s calculus. Ukraine has always been the main point of any of Russia’s grand projects of the past and present. The modern EEU, an ambitious project that goes well beyond the simple removal of borders between the five ex-Soviet countries (Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Russia), is weak economically and geographically without Ukraine. Many believe that even before the Ukraine crisis, Russia-Europe relations were strained and a crisis was inevitable, but it should not be forgotten that it is still Ukraine which made the differences insurmountable. It could even be argued that the Ukraine crisis put an end to any grand strategic view between Russia and Europe. The “Lisbon-Vladivostok” vision, it could be argued, is now dead.

Beyond the Ukrainian issue are also other important issues which are likely to stop any furtherance of the Greater Eurasia project. Europe and Russia are not just two competing economic blocs, but two blocs with opposing values and political systems. A compromise between the two has not been seen in the history of the past several centuries, except for short periods of time when Russian military power was needed in settling inter-European problems.

Moreover, put in the longer-term perspective, we see that the abandoning of the grand Lisbon-Vladivostok vision follows what is taking place across the entire Eurasian continent, where pragmatism and a reliance on real state interests and capabilities are back in fashion following the hopeful post-Cold War years.

Over the past several years, Russia has also leant towards the East. And while it is often put to question just how deep the Russian pivot to the East is, certain geopolitical tendencies lead us to support the idea as fact. Moscow portrays this policy as its own choosing, but the reality is that from three grand avenues (Eastern Europe, South Caucasus, and Central Asia) of projection of Russian geopolitical influence, it is only in Central Asia that Moscow does not meet important pushback from any Western power, while Chinese influence is only seen in economics. This simple vector of projection of Russian power is quite telling at a time when Moscow is more drawn to the East rather than the West, spelling a death note to once grand plans of an economic space from Lisbon to Vladivostok.

Author’s note: First published in Georgia Today

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Russia invites African leaders to Sochi Summit

Kester Kenn Klomegah

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Russia has finally announced that it would host African leaders and corporate business tycoons in a high-level October summit in Sochi, south coastal city, to roll out a comprehensive agenda and strategy aimed at raising the existing overall Russia’s economic profile in Africa, St Petersburg based Roscongress, the official organizer of the October summit, said on its website.

It is currently collaborating with the Russian Ministry of Industry and Trade, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Russian Export Center and the African Export-Import Bank in organizing the forthcoming business summit.

Roscongress is a non-profit foundation that has grown into a high-profile organization and gained recognition as an effective organizer of the most important business conventions and exhibitions, both in Russia and beyond.

Anton Kobyakov, an Advisor to the Russian President, said that the Russia-African summit primarily seeks to deepen understanding of the business climate, accelerate investment and partnership possibilities in Africa.

“The upcoming summit will be unique in the history of relations between Russia and African countries, and will plot the vector for the further development of bilateral and multilateral contacts for decades to come,” he said.

In his contribution, Professor Benedict Oramah, President and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank), explicitly noted that Russia had the necessary capabilities and, most importantly, the experience and professionalism of its people who could support in these efforts in consolidating the relations.

Russia, by holding various events regularly, would provide an additional impetus for the development of trade and investment opportunities for both countries.

Quite recently, Vyacheslav Volodin, the Chairman of the State Duma, told an instant meeting held with the Ambassadors of African countries in the Russian Federation, that Russia would take adequate steps to deliver on pledges and promises with Africa countries. “We propose to move from intentions to concrete steps,” he said.

Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry has expressed optimism and full-fledged support.

“It is evident that the significant potential of our economic cooperation is far from being exhausted and much remains to be done so that Russia and Africa know more about each other’s capacities and needs,” Foreign Affairs Minister Sergey Lavrov acknowledged in the current Russia’s relations with Africa.

He explained further that arranging an event of such a scale with the participation of over fifty heads of state and government required most careful preparation, including in terms of its substantive content and equally important was African businesspeople who have been looking to work on the Russian market.

“The economic component of the summit has a special significance as it would be of practical interest for all the parties. As such, specific Russian participants in bilateral or multilateral cooperation should be identified, which are not only committed to long-term cooperation but are also ready for large-scale investments in the African markets with account of possible risks and high competition,” Minister Lavrov noted in an interview.

For decades, Russia has been looking for effective ways to promote multifaceted ties and find new strategies of cooperation in energy, oil and gas, trade and industry, agriculture and other economic areas. Undoubtedly, holding a Russia-African summit would help deepen economic cooperation on the full range of spheres in Africa.

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