It currently seems that the Conference on Libya scheduled in Palermo, Sicily, will finally be a predictable success for the Italian government.
General Haftar, the powerful man of Cyrenaica (and currently also of Sirte) arrived in Rome on October 28 last for an informal visit which, however, was extremely useful for the Palermo Conference and for Italy’s future strategy in Libya.
The Head of the old “Operation Dignity” will certainly be also in Palermo, while Russia will probably be represented by Medvedev or by the Deputy Foreign Minister, Bogdanov. Or even by Dimitri Peskov. Nevertheless, whoever of them will participate in the Conference will have President Putin’s personal instructions to follow. Moreover, President Putin will follow the Conference debate in Sicily with extreme care.
Russia’s goal is to stabilize its presence in Libya, regardless of the political results reached by the Palermo Conference, and hence to start a strategic relationship also with Fayez al-Sarraj and Misrata’s Seventh Brigade, as well as with the major tribes of the Tripoli area. This can be achieved above all with the Italian support.
Nothing is more distant from the Russian interest than an exclusive bilateral relationship with General Haftar, of whom Russia has even minted the new coins with Colonel Gaddafi’s profile.
Russia, however, could have Italy’s good offices for establishing relations with Fayez al-Sarraj, with Misrata’s militias and, finally, the Fezzan areas, where Russia could establish itself as a major economic partner.
General Haftar’s Cyrenaica is thus moving away from France, whose intelligence services still fight side by side with his own militias. Why? Because the powerful man of Cyrenaica knows that, having an exclusive relationship with France, he would remain isolated in Europe and, above all, vis-à-vis Egypt.
In fact, President Al Sisi has put pressure on General Haftar to be in Palermo and not trust completely France, which only wants ENI’s oil wells – as at Sarkozy’s time – and in the future would certainly not be sympathetic to the government of Cyrenaica, as it appears today.
Another decisive sign for the positive outcome of the Conference is the fact that General Haftarhas also stated that Italian Ambassador Perrone can return to Tripoli.
Also Aguila Saleh Issa – the President of the Tobruk-based Parliament that recognizes al-Sarraj’s government, but relies on General Haftar’s forces – will be in Palermo.
He is an excellent and authoritative mediator.
Also Saleh, who has already come to Rome, is a prestigious personality that can possibly Endeavour to reach an agreement for a future unification of the country.
The problem of unification will be posed by Ahmed Mitig, the leader of Misrata – another figure that could take the lead of a new unitary project – as well as by Khaled al-Meshri and even Khalifa Gwell, now defeated by al-Sarraj’s troops (and by Misrata’s 7thBrigade led by Mitig), but always useful-or, indeed, necessary – to reach stable peace in Libya. It will be Italy – if capable to do so – to establish a new hierarchy and provide guarantees to the various leaders for a national, but widely regionalized power, as it was also the case at Gaddafi’s time.
It should be noted that Mitig is al-Sarraj’s No. 2 leader.
The United States has no particular interest in the Libyan dossier, which is outside their African sphere of interest, although recently some US “advisors” have secretly arrived in Sirte.
Nevertheless, the United States is strongly interested in the issue of Islamic terrorism – hence it will favour any credible solution that can stabilize Libya and stop the arrival of jihadists from sub-Saharan Africa in Europe and, possibly, in the United States itself.
The France led by President Macron – whom we do not yet know whether he will manage to participate in the Palermo Conference – is in an obviously difficult situation, also due to Macron’s non-diplomatic illness.
Should the Palermo Conference fail, its only card to play would be to establish a stronger alliance with General Haftar and also with Russia – otherwise France will basically play second fiddle in Libya and in the Maghreb region, with imaginable repercussions on its sub-Saharan and central Françafrique.
Moreover, the French intelligence services have long been operating in Fezzan to thwart the 2017 agreements signed in Rome by the various tribes of the region, with the support of the then Interior Minister, Marco Minniti (but also, fortunately, of the then Foreign Minister).
Sabotage actions, support to the French Armed Forces on the border with Niger, but also mass upheavals in Tripoli in September 2018, most likely triggered by French intelligence operatives and local Islamists.
Hence the wider the attendance at the Conference, the greater Italy’s chances of victory and, consequently, France’s chances of defeat. France, isolated on the Libyan internal chessboard, will probably take its revenge in the area of Niger.
We shall also see what role will be played by Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, who now lives in a Libyan secret location near Egypt.
Obviously Colonel Gaddafi’s most brilliant son will not be in Palermo, but it would be useful to consider him part of the game.
Saif would still be General Haftar’s card to guide and direct a unified country after the crazy and stupid “Arab spring” made by France and Great Britain, which are even more inept that the United States in the African foreign policy.
A US foreign policy which – only thanks to the fight against “terrorism” – is flooding Africa and the EU borders with drones, satellite networks and military bases to seal the EU itself, control the evolution and developments on its borders and turn the Russian Federation into a middle Asian regional power.
Moreover, should Italy’s project fail, French President Macron could find a role to play in the stabilization of Libya, thus creating a new mediator’s role precisely with al-Farraj, and rebuilding – probably at great cost – a new relationship with General Haftar, who let Russia know he is dissatisfied with France, which, as usual, believes it can dictate the military agenda for those it helps.
Russia, however, could also accept France’s role if the Palermo Conference failed. Russia only wants to reach the intended result. It does not want, however, to antagonize Italy, the oil power needed in Libya and the future destabilizer of the now disturbing EU, which has got in the way with Ukraine and the sanctions and tension with the countries of the old Warsaw Pact, which are now EU Member States. President Trump does not like Europe at all and has showed it everywhere. President Putin, however, who is more reserved and discreet, could be fed up with a European Union that – as a foolish servant – repeats the US propaganda and is no longer useful as business partner as it was in the past. Now time has come for the Russian-Chinese axis, which ensures Russia’s economic growth – an axis passing through the Mediterranean, not the Eurasian peninsula.
Hence we also need to think about the outcome of the meetings that will be held by the French Foreign Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, in Paris on November 8 next.
These meetings will be attended by some Misrata’s and 7thBrigade’s leaders, and by Abo Kassim Kozeit, member of the High Council of State, as well as by MPs Soleiman Elfaqih and Mohammed Erraid, and GNA advisors Ali Bousseta and Ettaher Elbaour, in addition to Haftar’s military men Salha Juha and Mohammed Eddarat.
Preparation for a coup or for another government in exile? This is the reason why Haftar is worried.
Hence the Paris meetings will be a sort of Palermo Conference – hosted in a cold weather location, with the second and third ranks of the various participants in the Sicilian Conference – to mobilize and anyway activate the French networks in Libya for elections in the near future, which may possibly be interesting for some participants, and for a “plan for Libya” by the French intelligence services which will not convince al-Sarraj, who does not want to die in an attack on his government’s palace. This must be clearly said in Palermo.
Nevertheless, it will not even convince General Haftar, who now fears his arrogant allies and looks to Russia and also to Italy for putting an end to the conflict in a way that, however, does not humiliate him.
At the last Libyan elections only 17% of people voted – certainly not a share of voters that would make us take them seriously.
Elections in the near future, by which the covert operations of the French intelligence services set great store, would only create the conditions for a new fratricidal war – and this must be clearly explained to all the Libyan parties participating in the forthcoming Conference scheduled in Palermo.
For the Italian intelligence services said Conference is a significant turning point.
As far as we know, the Director of the Foreign Intelligence Service (AISE), Alberto Manenti, who was born in Tarhouna, depends on the outcome of the Palermo Conference, while also the domestic intelligence agency (AISI) and the Department of Security Intelligence (DIS) are under very strong pressure.
Our American friends should also be pointed out that only the future unity of the Government of National Accord (GNA), Haftar’s forces, the Tobruk-based government and other parties is the sole guarantee of a serious struggle against ISIS.
A repression of Libyan jihadism which is not at all a marginal goal, neither for Libya nor for Europe, considering the persisting tensions in Sirte, the reorganization of the so-called “radical” Islam in Fezzan (which could also benefit France, which would direct it towards the North) and the Caliphate’s final penetration also along the coastal lines.
Let us imagine that the recent visit paid by the Interior Minister, Matteo Salvini, to Doha, the capital of Qatar, protecting the Muslim Brotherhood and supporting al-Sarraj, together with Turkey, has created a credible pressure of this Emirate on the Government of National Accord (GNA) for a platform – which is allegedly already circulating within the Italian Government – on the gradual unification of the Libyan Armed Forces.
A platform which is also the new goal of Al Sisi’s Egypt – although we do not know to what extent this goal is credible. Probably Egypt is finally fed up with funding and training General Haftar’s expensive army that, however, is still targeting its own offensive on Derna, a jihadist city-State.
It should also be recalled that, just the day before the beginning of the Palermo Conference, Donald J. Trump and Vladimir Putin will meet in Paris for the future revision of the INF Treaty regarding medium-range missiles, recently rejected by the USA.
President Trump speaks about the Russian missiles, but he actually means the Chinese ones: should the new INF Treaty be reworded as desired by the US Administration, it would lead to the destruction of 95% of Chinese missiles.
And the United States strategically holds China only from the Pacific, from South Korea and from the bases in Japan.
Hence, probably President Macron wants to be credited for a success in the negotiation – even only for media purposes – but it is much more likely that the Paris agreement on the new INF Treaty would ultimately be just a list of fine words.
Nevertheless, it would count to overshadow the Sicilian Conference and marginalize the Italian government and its image vis-à-vis Libya and the allies.
We do not know yet what Chancellor Merkel will say. She will be in Palermo representing a country that has not participated – except for a small e-warfare brigade -in the Western struggle to support the jihadists of Cyrenaica that led to the collapse of Gaddafi’s regime. In all likelihood, she will also devise a role as mediator, but politically weakened at national level and without a clear strategic direction in Africa which, however, would lead her to support-for want of anything better – the French assumptions and options.
Are we sure, however, that President Macron – so rhetorically pro-European – wants to deal with a German ally he has already antagonized on public accounts and the endless mass of irremovable civil servants? In no case President Macron wants to get involved, in Africa, with the German Armed Forces in disarray and with a primary goal in mind, which is still the Eurasian East?
Certainly France has invited the second and third ranks of the two major Libyan groups, led by al-Sarraj and Haftar, with a view to imitating the inclusion strategy that has characterized the Italian preparatory work for the Palermo Conference scheduled at Villa Igea.
Moreover, thirteen small groups invited by President Macron have already decided not to attend the Paris meeting.
In fact, Prime Minister Conte’s government has involved all the participants in the Libyan game, including the apparently minor ones.
Also in view of weakening al-Sarraj, Khalifa Haftar would like to have – and probably already has – a good relationship with Misrata’s militias which, together with the other 250 autonomous militias, make up the unsafe, insecure and expensive (also for others) military basis of al-Sarraj’s government.
As already noted, Ahmed Mitig is the powerful man of Misrata and al-Sarraj’sNo. 2 leader.
Last year Mitig had also been to Agrigento, Sicily, for the first Italian-Libyan Forum. Meanwhile the Conference was being prepared.
The Palermo Conference will also be attended by Khaled Meshri, the President of Libya’s Supreme Council of State and No. 3 leader who, upon precise orders, will probably leave the Paris quasi-Summit on Libya and give up its elusive “elections”.
As already noted, the Conference will be also attended by Aguila Saleh Issa, the President of the GNA Parliament. but having excellent relations with the Tobruk-based Parliament.
He is certainly a decisive figure in Libya’s current and future set-up.
Moreover, there are already jihadist infiltrations also in Tripoli and Ghassan Salamè, the UN Special Representative in Libya, has publicly accused al-Sarraj of being weak.
Therefore Al-Sarraj is no longer as powerful within the Tripoli government as he was a year ago and General Haftar does not fail to let it know that he still wants to get to Tripoli.
We need to ensure a honourable role to al-Sarraj; to let General Haftar know he can now stabilize his conquests, but must also have the support of Tripoli’s and Misrata’s forces, as well as of many Fezzan tribes, with whom the Italian intelligence services have always been in contact; to make it clear also for the old Head of “Operation Dignity” that it is useless to defeat and humiliate his enemies in Tripoli – a harshness that will unleash other tribal wars.
There is also another decisive factor, namely finance. Some of Gaddafi’s assets in the Libyan Investment Authority (LIA) and in other related investment companies have not yet been requisitioned by the United Nations, which had forgotten to make banking requisition mandatory for governments.
LIA’s division between Libya and Malta is ineffective and has led some Libyan financial transactions to come close to very dangerous environments.
General Haftar controlled the Oil Crescent’s wells, but eventually agreed to reach a reasonable arrangement on the oil sale proceeds.
All the money made or the returns on investment – currently limited -of the funds of Gaddafi’s regime in the EU and abroad must return to the new Libya.
This is the reason why – starting from the Palermo Conference – an Organization for the Financial Autonomy of the whole Libya could be set up which, in view of the future reunification of the area, should establish an equitable and even stable distribution of income between the regions, as well as enlarged representation between tribes and local governments, and the EU protection, with a delegation of powers to Italy, which already controls – with ENI and fully respecting all parties – the oil-related assets.
Central Asian Jihadi Groups Joined Taliban’s “Al-Fath Jihadi Operations”
Al Qaeda-backed jihadist groups Katibat Imam al Bukhari (KIB), the Islamic Jihad Union (IJU) and the Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP), consisting mainly of Uzbeks from the Fergana Valley of Central Asia and Uyghurs of Chinese Xinjiang, jointly conduct “Al-Fath Jihadi Operations” alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan amid the US-Taliban negotiation. KIB’s online media channel “Katibat Imam al-Bukhari under the Islamic Emirateof Afghanistan” that implies a Taliban’s subsidiary began to regularly publish news about the “victorious offensives of the warriors of Islam.” As well as IJU’s main two social media channels Badr at-Tawhid and al-Sodiqlar TV (al-Sodiqlar in Uzbek, which means ‘The Truthful’) often release videos featuring both the Taliban and IJU on the joint battleground.
For example, on April 14, 2019, KIB’s Telegram channel reported that “al Bukhari’s Mujahideen of the Islamic Emirate attacked enemy positions and killed 36 militaries of the Kabul administration, among which 4 were high-ranking commanders.”As evidence of its successful attack, KIB published video and photo materials. Another report, dated May 3, 2019, states that “Mujahideen of our Jamaat blew up the Ranger vehicle in Zabul province as a result 7 government soldiers were killed.”
Telegram’s online channel also published an audio message by the emir of the KIB’s Afghan division Jumabai Hafizahulloh, who calls on the Mujahideen to “commit Istighfar (the act of seeking forgiveness from Allah) to defeat foreign invaders led by the United States of Satan and establish Sharia law in Afghanistan.”In his speech, he frequently refers to religious works of the famous Sunni Muslim scholar Ibn Taymiyyah whose worldviews influenced the development of Salafism and Takfirism and became the basis of the ideology of al Qaeda and ISIS. At the end of the speech, he called on all Muslims to join the jihad against the “American occupiers.”
According to audio and video materials distributed by al-Sodiqlar TV on Telegram, Uzbek militants of IJU have frequently taken part in “Al-Fath Jihadi Operations” alongside the Taliban, fighting against Afghan security forces. For example, on April 14, 2019, IJU released a video showing how Uzbek militants under the leadership of the Taliban attacking an Afghan security forces’ convoy in Baghlan province’s capital Puli Khumri and seizing heavy trucks on the Baghlan-Balkh highway, part of the Ring Road which links Kabul to the north.
TIP, KIB and IJU’s videos in Telegram once again reaffirmed al Qaeda-backed Central Asian jihadists’ role within the Taliban insurgency, as the jihadists fight together to resurrect the Taliban’s Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.
Features of the Taliban military operation
As is known, the Taliban annually conducts military operations under various formidable names that have an ideological and religious implication. In 2018, its military action was called ‘Al Khandaq Jihadi Operations’ (from the name of the famous Battle of Khandaq led by the Prophet Mohammed in 627), which also involved Sunni violent extremist groups: Uyghurs’ TIP and Uzbeks’ KIB. On April 12, 2019, the Taliban announced the launch of a new “Al-Fath Jihadi Operations” (which means Victory), which was published on the website ‘Voice of Jihad’ of ‘the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’ (Taliban so refers to itself).
A distinctive feature of “Al-Fath Jihadi Operations” from previous military actions is that the Taliban this year applies new tactics of attacks aimed against the government and municipal officials, the military and police forces of Afghanistan, and does not prioritize attacks on US and NATO forces. Perhaps that is why the Taliban-backed Uzbek and Uyghur jihadist groups often report on successful military operations, as local officials and government offices in remote provinces become an easy target for them.
Another distinguishing feature of “Al-Fath Jihadi Operations” that it is conducted against the backdrop of US-Taliban peace talks. Trump administration’s decision to pull American forces out of Afghanistan and begin direct peace talks between the US and the Taliban without inviting official Kabul inspired the Taliban to tighten the “al-Fath Jihadi Operations”, and was ablow to the morale of Afghan generals. The Taliban are already stronger today than they have been since their ouster in 2001, controlling or holding sway over 60 percent of Afghanistan’s districts. Therefore, they in advance methodically and cynically rejectedLoya Jirga (Afghan grand assembly) demands for a cease-fire and shunned direct talks with the Afghan government, describing it with insulting terms like “a US-imposed puppet regime,” “domestic stooges,” “the hollow Kabul administration” and “cabinet offoreign invaders “.
The main topics of Doha’s peace talks between US peace envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad and co-founder of the Taliban, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, were the full withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan and ensuring that Afghanistan is not used as a base for foreign terrorist organizations, above all for al Qaeda and ISIS, to attack other countries.
After the completion of the sixth round of negotiations, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, in a May 9 statement, assessed the outcome of the meeting as “positive” and the parties made “progress” on some points. But the activities of al Qaeda-linked Central Asian Salafi-Jihadi groups KIB, IJU and TIP in Afghanistan and their active participation in “al-Fath Operations” testified, there is not any “progress” to cut the Taliban’s cooperation with al Qaida.
To achieve international recognition the Taliban in July 2016 issued a statement for the Central Asian countries, in which it assured its neighbors that “the Islamic Emirate does not seek to interfere in the internal affairs of others nor will it allow anyone to use the land under the control of Islamic Emirate against anyone else.” During the Moscow Conference in February 2019, the Taliban reiterated “we do not allow anyone to use the soil of Afghanistan against other countries including neighboring countries.”
But all these false claims are a political ploy aimed at hiding the Taliban’s ties with al Qaeda and its Central Asian affiliates. The KIB, IJU and TIP’s media arm has shown the Taliban keeps using the Uzbek and Uyghur jihadists against West Coalition and Afghan forces, and collaborating with al Qaeda inside Afghanistan, despite assurances to the contrary.
Taliban and al Qaida are the “godfathers” of Uzbek and Uyghur jihadist groups
As is known, the first contact between Uyghur and Uzbek Islamists with the Taliban and al Qaeda occurred in the early 1990s, when members of the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, pursued by the Chinese and Uzbek authorities, fled to Afghanistan. Since then, the Taliban and al Qaeda became the “godfathers” of the Central Asian Islamist groups and widely opened the doors of global jihad for them.
The Taliban have been continuously working alongside Uzbek and Uyghur jihadist groups that have sworn allegiance both to al Qaeda and the Taliban, and today this bayat (an oath of allegiance) is effectively operating. In turn, the leaders of al Qaeda bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri both swore allegiance to the Taliban, with the result that IMU and TIP (former ETIM) were under double tutelage and control. Although the Taliban staunchly focused on Afghanistan and has not demonstrated al-Qaeda’s global jihadist ambitions outside the country, nevertheless, it continues to host Uzbek and Uyghur militant groups with far-reaching goals.
Under the influence of “godfathers,” ideological views of Uzbek and Uyghur militants expanded significantly with global aspirations. Today, they are not limited to the local agendas to overthrow the political regimes in Central Asia and China and set themselves global tasks to create a world caliphate.
Recently the UN Security Council in its twenty-second comprehensive report confirmed: “The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan still commands about 500 fighters in Afghanistan, concentrated in Faryab, Sari Pul, Jowzjan, Kunduz, Baghlan, Takhar and Badakhshan provinces. Around another 500 Central Asian fighters are distributed between Khatibat Imam Al-Bukhari, Katibat al Tawhid wal Jihad, Islamic Jihad Union… The Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement commands 400 fighters in Badakhshan” (page 15-16, section “Central and South Asia”).
This Russian and Turkic-speaking terrorist groups are trusted by al Qaeda and Taliban leaders and have become a link in their strategic ties. In different years, TIP, IMU and IJU were added to the United Nations Security Council Sanctions List as being associated with al Qaeda and the Taliban. In addition, the US State Department designated all of these Central Asian jihadist groups, including Katibat al-Imam Bukhari, as “global terrorist organizations” because of their involvement in terrorist attacks alongside the Taliban and al Qaeda.
The Taliban nervously reacts when Central Asian groups break their bayat al Qaeda and considers betrayal an unforgivable crime. In December 2015, the Taliban captured and executed about 60 Uzbek jihadists led by IMU leader Usmon Ghazi in the Zabul province who broke al-Qaeda oath and pledged to Islamic State.
Sometimes the Taliban, as befits a good “godfather,” forgive Central Asian militants who violated their oath to al Qaeda. After the Taliban’s elimination of the self-proclaimed Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISIS branch in Afghanistan) in the northern Afghan province of Jawzjan,20 Central Asian fighters (citizens of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan)from Qari Hikmatullah’s ISIS network, who surrendered to the Taliban, were evacuated, along with their families, to Kohistanat district of Sar-e Pul province. Today they serve the Taliban, who has become their new master.
Taliban’s religious roots in support foreign terrorist groups
As the US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation ZalmayKhalilzad stated in March 2019, the US and the Taliban “agreed in draft”that covers two key issues: a “Coalition’s withdrawal timeline” and “effective counterterrorism measures.”According to this “draft”, the Taliban would provide “counter-terrorism assurances” that Afghanistan would not be used as a base for terrorist groups to attack foreign countries.
Despite the Taliban’s generous promises, after it comes to power in the future (judging by the tone of the negotiations, today’s events are developing precisely in this vein), there are no guarantees that the Taliban will renounce al Qaeda and stop supporting Central Asian Salafi-Jihadi groups. The problem is not the reluctance of the Taliban, but in its radical Islamist ideology and Sharia law, according to which the framework of relations between Ansar [natives] and Muhajireen [foreign fighters] are clearly outlined.
As is known from the history of Islam, mutual relations between Ansar and Muhajireen relies on Islamic values when the local inhabitants [Ansar] of Medina warmly welcomed, provided shelter and supported the Prophet Muhammad and his followers [Muhajireen], who had left their homes behind for widespread Islam during the fight against unbelievers in 622.
The Surahs of the Qur’an, Al-Anfal [8:72] and Al-Hashr [59:9], detail the responsibilities of the Ansar and Muhajireen relationship. For example, Al-Anfal obliges Ansar to help Muhajireen: “Indeed, those who have believed and emigrated and fought with their wealth and lives in the cause of Allah and those who gave shelter and aided – they are allies of one another. But those who believed and did not emigrate – for you there is no guardianship of them until they emigrate. And if they seek help of you for the religion, then you must help, except against a people between yourselves and whom is a treaty.”
As the ups and downs of the Taliban rule showed, the Taliban is strict followers of the Ansar doctrine. During the rule of the Taliban, its territory, so-called “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” became the main shelter for Muhajireen of al Qaeda and other foreign terrorist groups. Central Asian Islamists massively migrated there. During the reign of the Taliban, IMU in 1999-2000 twice attacked southern Kyrgyzstan. These fighting clashes went down in history under the name of the Batken War, during which more than 50 soldiers of the Kyrgyz army were killed.
The ties between the Taliban and al Qaeda proved to be so strong that after 9/11 the Taliban refused to hand over the main terrorist Bin Ladin to the US. There is much evidence, including joining Central Asian jihadists to “Al-Fath Jihadi Operations”, that the Taliban and al Qaeda ties remain strong. Therefore, it can be expected that in the event of the US withdrawal and the coming to power of the Taliban, Afghanistan will again become home to international terrorist groups.
The Russian Mafia
Since 1992, the Russian word Mafyia has been officially used in the Russian Federation’s documents to refer above all to organized crime, structured through stable groups that repeatedly perpetrate severe crimes and offences. In particular, this word refers to the interests of the world “below” – the invisible universe of organized crime – with the world “above”, namely institutions, ruling classes, politicians and companies.
Both the real Mafia, namely the Sicilian one, and the Russian one were born around mid-19th century.
The Sicilian Mafia became the “parallel State” in a region where the Unitary State did not exist or counted for nothing. A case in point is the Baron of Sant’Agata, the feudal lord of Calatafimi, who ordered his mobsters to “side with the winners”, when he realized that Garibaldi’s troops, the so-called “Garibaldini” were winning in the plain.
The Sicilian “organization”, which had long-standing roots -probably Arab and in any case independent of the Kingdom centred on Naples and the Campania region – discovered its political role precisely with Garibaldi-led Expedition of the Thousand that landed in Sicily, after which it became the primary mediator between the small group of “Piedmontese” soldiers and the great mass of peasants. It immediately agreed with the feudal lords, who helped it considering that it was winning.
The Mafia itself was both the improper bank of the wealthy feudal lords and the only form of effective social control, solely in favour of the Sicilian feudal elites – and hence also of the Unitary Kingdom.
As happened also in Naples, when Garibaldi appointed Liborio Romano – who was also the Head of Camorra – as Chief of Police. An inevitably very effective policeman.
Conversely, in Russia organized crime was initially used – in politics – by various revolutionary groups to fight the Tsar.
Later, there was the magic moment of an important “friend of the people”, namely Nicholai Ishutin.
He was the first to establish a group of professional revolutionaries, in 1864, simply called “the Organization”.
However, with a view to better achieving the revolutionary, anarchist and violent aims of his Organizacjia, Ishutin created another new structure. It was called the “Hell” and had to engage in all possible illegal activities, together with the already active criminals: murder, theft and blackmail. All this had to happen while the “Organization” was running its lawful social and organizational activities.
Hence, for the first time politics became the cover for a criminal organization. Goodness knows how many imitators Comrade Ishutin had.
It was the beginning of a very strong bond – also at theoretical level, through many excerpts from Lenin’s texts that exalted Russian revolutionary populism – between organized crime and the Bolshevik Communist Party.
In fact, on June 26, 1907, a bank stagecoach of the State Bank of the Russian Empire was attacked and robbed in Tiflis, Georgia. It was a robbery fully organized by top-level Bolsheviks, including Lenin and Stalin.
There was also the strong support of local criminals led by Ter-Petrosian (“Kamo”), the Head of the Georgian mob and also Stalin’s early associate.
The relationship between organized crime and Bolshevism – particularly with reference to the “agrarian reform” of 1930-1932 – remained central.
The Soviet power absolutely needed its extra legem left hand to harshly bring peasants into line and to militarily organize the conquest of factories, as well as to control or physically eliminate the entrepreneurs or bureaucrats of the old Tsarist regime.
Everything changed with Stalin, who, together with the stabilization of the Bolshevik regime, made possible also the verticalization and creation of a unitary command hierarchy in the vast world of Russian crime – and in the Party.
Hence the Organizatsja was founded, i.e. a strongly verticistic Panrussian structure – as indeed the Bolshevik Party was.
The “Organization” – full of symbols and particular rites, like the many para-Masonic organizations of the revolutionary Napoleonic network in Italy, which imitated the secret society of Carbonari (the so-called Carboneria) or, precisely, Freemasonry, albeit with entirely new mechanisms and symbols – was sung heroically by one of the poets, former “Thief-in-Law” (the generic term used by Stalin to designate all the members of the Organization), but much loved by Stalin, namely Mikhail Djomin, who exalted the achievements of the Vorovskoi Mir, the Thieves’ World, that had only one code of conduct and revenge throughout the USSR.
Hence the Party established the first organizational structure of the “Thieves-in-Law”, who much operated during the Stalinist regime: the Mir “brigades” were led by a “reserve group” that generated and selected an additional covert group that had to be permanently related to the Soviet political, economic and financial power.
In fact, the “Vory v Zakone”, the Thieves-in-Law, had relations on an equal footing with the Party and State leaders. They dealt with the various “brigades” and managed the odshak, the cash pool, through an ad hoc Committee.
Through the odshak, said Committee mainly paid salaries to the Organization soldiers, but above all invested its proceeds in the so-called “white” economy.
Without the criminal organizations and their autonomous finance, there would have been neither the Soviet normalization after Stalin’s purges, nor the money for Leninist industrialization and the funds – extremely needed for the USSR – targeted to foreign trade and the related sales of raw materials from 1930 onwards.
This also applied to the Sicilian Mafia, a true organization between two worlds, the American and the Italian ones, which invested in real estate in Sicily when there was no capital, in the aftermath of the Second World War, or refinanced capitalism in Northern Italy after the political and union storm in the late 1960s and 1970s.
Without Mafia’s capital and without the protection provided by some entrepreneurs to the most important fugitives in Milan, there would have been no economic recovery after the disaster of 1968.
Reverting to the Bolsheviks, Stalin accepted the presence of the “Thieves-in-Law” in their main sectors of activity, in exchange for their careful persecution of his personal and Soviet regime’s political adversaries.
Years later, even de Gaulle did so when proposing to the Corsican underworld – one of the most ferocious in Europe – to fight the OAS and eliminate it, in exchange for some State favours and the transfer of many gangsters of the Brise de Mer – as the Corsican Mafia was called – to Marseille.
Hence there is no modern power that could do without its particular “Thieves-in-Law”. A case in point was China, in the phase of the “Four Modernizations” and the subsequent Tiananmen Square movement, or the United States itself, which dealt primarily with its various Mafias, especially in periods of severe financial crisis.
In the 1950s, shortly before Stalin’s death, inter alia, a very close relationship was established between the “Organization” and the Soviet power leaders.
It was exactly the underground economy – fully in the hands of the “Thieves-in-Law”- which, in Brezhnev’s time, became the meeting point between Mafia and Communists.
The Organizatsjia already had excellent relations with the parallel “capitalist” organizations – relations which were established upon the creation of the Russian structure in the meeting held in Lviv in 1950 – and it became essential to find the goods which were never found on the Russian market, including weapons and illicit capital flows.
Corruption became the real axis of bureaucracy and of the Party itself, while there was a spreading of poverty that closely resembled the poverty of Ukrainian and Crimean peasants during the so-called “agrarian reform” of 1930-1931.
Later, always in agreement with the Bolshevik leadership, Mafyia organized – in every factory or office – “clandestine units”, not falling within the scope of the collectivist system, which created an underground market that, from 1980 to 1991, was even worth 35-38% of the Soviet GDP.
The proceeds from that semi-clandestine trade were shared between the Party, the “Organization” and the law enforcement agencies. No one could escape that mechanism.
Again in the 1980s, precisely due to the social and political pervasiveness of the “Thieves-in-Law”, the Organizatsjia was structured into units for each commodity sector, especially with units specialized in oil, minerals, wood, precious stones and even caviar.
At that stage, however, many Soviet Party and State leaders were officially accepted in the Organizatsjia, thus becoming the necessary link between the “Thieves-in-Law” and the institutions.
Furthermore, with Gorbachev’s reforms, Mafyia was no longer only an important part of the economic system,but became the economic system in its entirety.
The elimination of the old political apparatus and fast privatizations enabled the old leaders of the various “clandestine units” to quickly collect the initial capital to buy everything going from companies onto the now apparently liberalized market.
Sometimes Mafia’s intimidation was also needed, when the old employees did not want to assign – for a few roubles – their shares that the law allowed to be allotted between workers and managers of the old State-owned factories.
In 1992 Yeltsin himself admitted that over two thirds of the Russian production and commercial structure were in the hands of the “Organization”.
However, in memory of the old ties with similar organizations abroad, only Mafyia did start the first joint-venture contracts with Western companies and 72% of that opening onto the world market was only the work of the Organizatsija.
That was exactly what Judge Falcone would have dealt with in Russia with his Russian colleague Stepankov, if he had not been killed with his wife and three agents of his escort in a bomb attack.
The joint venture worked as follows: firstly, foreign capitalists put their money into the companies of the “Organization” and later – without realising it and only with the hard ways – they were in the hands of the old “Thieves-in-Law”.
Nevertheless, it was from 1990 to 1992 that the Russian Mafia structure penetrated the West with vast illegal funds managed together with the local Mafias.
Not surprisingly, a few days after the Capaci bombing, Giovanni Falcone was to fly to Russia to talk with the Russian Prosecutor General, Valentin Stepankov, who was investigating into the CPSU funds that had disappeared in the West.
The intermediary of the operation could only be the “Organization” that knew the Sicilian Mafia very well, at least since the aforementioned meeting held in Lviv in 1950.
A huge amount of money went from the CPSU to the “sister” parties and probably the issue regarded also the failed coup against Gorbachev in August 1991.
Each CPSU faction had its autonomous funds – often huge ones – given to “sister” parties but, above all, to their most similar internal wings. Here a significant role was played by the covert bank accounts held in Zurich, together with the Wednesday air transfers to the local Narodny Bank, as well as the money transfers that took place during the visits of the CPSU executives to the various local “comrades”.
Nevertheless, the cash flows -managed only by the Organization -were regarded by the CPSU’s “old guard” mainly as a source of personal survival and a basis for future political action at national level. Everyone, ranged face to face upon the field of the new CPSU factions, thought to said cash flows.
Coincidentally, it was exactly in those years and months that the Sicilian Mafia expanded – for its drug business – to the Caucasus and Anatolian Turkey, on the border with the new Russian Federation.
At that time – as currently – the Russian Mafyia had preferential relations with the Sicilian Mafia, the Neapolitan Camorra, the Chinese triads and the Turkish Mafia.
Also the relations with Latin American and Arab criminal organizations have been mediated by Sicilians or Calabrians (in South America), Turks (in Central Asia and India) and Chinese (in Maghreb and Africa).
Currently the Organization’s yearly turnover is still 2,000 billion roubles approximately, with weapons – including nuclear ones – which were provided by the Mafyia sections within the Soviet and later Russian Armed Forces.
As even Luciano Violante – the former President of an important anti-Mafia Parliamentary Committee – maintained, both the CPSU and the KGB have long had excellent relations with the Sicilian Mafia. The Russian Mafyia itself is now the world centre where money laundering strategies, as well as the division of territories at international level and the new strategies of relations with the various ruling classes, are managed.
Violante used to say that the CPSU and the KGBhad put in place the most recent Russian Mafia, with which they were gradually confused.
Hence the new post-Soviet oligarchy – selected after Mafia wars that,between 1990 and 1995, exacted a toll of 30,000 victims – has now merged with the ruling class.
As Solzhenitsyn used to say, currently in Russia a maximum of 150 people rules. Putin deals with the “Organization”, but he is certainly not linked to it.
Furthermore, according to the most reliable Russian sources, currently the “Thieves-in-Law” network is composed of about 50,000 people, including managers and mere “soldiers”.
Nevertheless, their network of intimidation and capital makes them essential in carrying out any kind of “white” operation. They are the bank of the new Russia, considering that all the official banks are part of the “Organization”.
In the Russian media jargon, the Russian Mafia bosses who have reinvented themselves in the legal business are called avtoritet(“authorities”).
The Russian Mafyia also operate abroad, throughout Europe, but does not operate directly in the territory of the various countries. If anything, it seeks relations with the State and bureaucracy, through the national criminal networks, without by-passing them.
Currently the Russian money laundering hub is still France, while recently the “Organization” has been spreading quickly within the German economic, banking and commercial fabric.
In Italy, it operates mainly in Emilia-Romagna, Tuscany and, obviously, Rome.
According to the Italian police sources, the capital flows of the Russian “Organization” in Italy are equal to 38.5 billion a year, while the flow of Russian money laundering is still focused on France, albeit with some operations made in Spain and Portugal. A diversification already underway, which could also affect Italy.
The first channel has always been Latvia, used by Russian mobsters to enter the Euro area directly.
With a view to penetrating Latvia, the Russian “Organization” created dummy companies based in London.
Later a Russian company lent money to the company based in London – a company with main headquarters often located in Moldova.
The Russian company did not repay the debt – hence a corrupt judge in Moldova forced the Russian company to transfer capital to a Moldavian account.
Hence the money entered Latvia in a perfectly legal way and later the Euro area and Western economies.
The network has already endangered 753 Western banks – and money laundering is still one of the primary business activities of the Russian “Organization”.
AI, Foreign Policy, and National Governance Impact: Focus on China
How China’s AI technology exports may lead to the emergence of new power structures outside the control of existing governance and accountability frameworks and impact the rules-based global order and geopolitical alliances.
The notion of power and geopolitical influence in the digital era
Until recently, analytical attention to the development of digital technologies, including AI, has tended to focus on corporations such as Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon (GAFAs). These GAFAs, some of them deemed to be more powerful than some states, have changed the notion of power and geopolitical influence. These corporations are leveraging the power of AI, networks, data intelligence infrastructures, and regulatory frameworks to impact public space around the world. This is leading to the emergence of new power structures outside the control of existing liberal democratic and human rights accountability frameworks, to the extent that even democratic societies resent this power over their public space.
Meanwhile, less noticed but arguably more effective in its consequences, is the Chinese government’s investment in the development and application of these same technologies, —aimed at strengthening its state intelligence infrastructure—strongly suggesting that AI could shape society and government in very different ways than the originators of said technologies at issue may have anticipated. Capitalizing on these current structural and technological shifts in the global information environment—enabled by algorithms, artificial intelligence, and other new opportunities created, China and its allies are able to censor and manipulate information at its source and control what populations can see and say on the internet. While Russia’s role in undermining Western democracies through algorithms is well documented and debated, it is China’s combination of state-directed capitalism and coercive economic diplomacy which will potentially upend the rules-based global order and a geopolitical re-alignment, possibly leading to a real multipolar world. Together with its allies it will, among other strategies that constitute its sharp power, do so through AI-driven applications and ironically by exploiting the vulnerabilities in the openness of democracies. All in all, it will be an attempt to create a new political order which challenges states’ sovereignty.
Chinese AI capabilities and domestic objectives
China is spending vast sums on research related to AI technologies, as cyberpower sits at the intersection of a number of its national domestic and foreign policy priorities.
China’s international cyber ambitions are closely paired with its existing and growing use of AI technologies for surveillance and social control at home. This is evident from the intrusive AI-driven surveillance infrastructures being employed in Xinjiang state and that of the Great Fire Wall (GFW). Although American companies took an early lead in AI, for example, as measured by the application of machine learning and number of AI patents registration, China is closing the gap with the U.S. At the current technological advancement rate, it is predicted that by 2025 China will surpass the U.S. and by 2030it will dominate the industries of AI. This poses significant implications to the economic, political, security, cultural, and human rights global order.
China’s foreign objectives
To advance its “going out” foreign investment public diplomacy policy, in 2017 the Chinese government outlined its roadmap for turning itself into the “world’s primary AI innovation Centre” by 2030. The Chinese state-backed “AI National Team,” a group of leading Chinese technology firms, are investing in the development and exporting of new technologies with state backing. Coupled with sizable state investment in cyber technology development, this suggests China aims to become an AI-centered “cyber-superpower”.
In recent years, as part of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), China’s export of AI technologies to developing countries, ‘operating both within the Global South and the international community, ’has grown rapidly, reinforcing the idealized South-South development model and a geopolitical re-alignment. There has been a widely held view amongst development practitioners and policymakers operating within the Global South, that the South-South development model has largely been conducive for economic growth, particularly in terms of attracting investment, infrastructure, including internet infrastructure, and diversifying the landscape of trading partners, diverging from former colonial ties. However, an unintended consequence of this has been that the pro South-South stance has hindered critical thinking in relation to discerning the negative repercussions.
As the democracy and human rights implications stemming from the unregulated export of Chinese AI to the Global South are beginning to surface, it is imperative that this idealized narrative is challenged. It is clear that China’s export of AI technologies exceeds mere economic purposes. In addition to expanding its cyber-industry market share, these exports allow Beijing to use developing countries as laboratories to test, diversify, and improve its surveillance technologies. This goes beyond conventional trading parameters, constituting instead a form of economic exploitation that leans toward extractive dynamics. Perhaps this is an emerging form of cyber colonization?
Recently, China signed agreements with Zimbabwe, Angola and Ethiopia, ostensibly to diversify algorithm training data. Despite the potential economic gains of China’s AI technology exports to Africa, the prospective implications of such unregulated trade on democratic, participatory governance, and human rights in Africa may be extremely negative. Particularly susceptible are countries with long histories of human rights abuses and poor records regarding the rule of law, where China’s surveillance technologies are proving increasingly attractive to governments facing strong domestic opposition, ongoing insurgencies, and other security challenges, including popular protests.
The unregulated export of Chinese AI technologies to countries that fit this profile is likely to reinforce existing systemic repression as well as introduce new ones. AI-driven applications will soon allow authoritarians to analyze patterns in a population’s online activity, identify those most susceptible to a particular message, and target them more precisely with propaganda.AI will create persuasion infrastructures at scale…to manipulate individuals one by one, using their personal, individual weaknesses and vulnerabilities”. Such influencing campaigns –aimed at either specific populations of authoritarian countries or those of democracies abroad – undermine free speech, political participation, and other liberal principles in countries around the world through coercive economic diplomacy.
How does this affect the liberal world order and liberal democracies in the west?
China’s growing development and export of AI technologies is fostering state monitoring and control of society, censorship, and the empowerment of states often unaccountable to their populations. Under the guise of BRI, China is seeking to export and globalize its policy of authoritarian cyber controls, which directly run counter to democratic societies’ aspirations for a free and open global internet. However, China’s efforts to influence cyberspace and the rules-based global order is part of larger trends and patterns relating to authoritarian cooperation and innovation, including the emergence of authoritarian cyber counter-norms and its effort to actively contest democratic development, the democratic ideal, and liberal order. Since the end of the Cold War, China and its allies sensed the democratic state’s reluctance to defend the liberal order and a wrong assumption that China would liberalize. Despite their divergent views, China, Russia, and Iran all agree on the goal of weakening the global democratic norms encouraged by the West. Cyberspace and in particular AI provides a new frontier through which to realize their shared ambitions to undermine human rights, in particular freedom of speech, by controlling information at the source and carrying out influence campaigns as outlined above.
Companies and governments that are using AI at a global level should adopt global standards. They should apply human rights law, which provides global standards, for example, article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which protects everyone’s right to “seek, receive, and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers.”
In the same way they have done on the internet, the West should promote a distributed model of AI governance that involves the GAFAs, technical bodies, the private sector, civil society, and governments. They should categorically reject Beijing’s preferred state-centric and UN-led multilateral approach to governing cyberspace as China can easily use its diplomatic clout at the UN to frustrate the distributed model of internet governance. The West should strengthen the voice of marginalized populations, which include urban and rural poor communities, women, youth, LGBTQ, ethnic and racial groups, people with disabilities – and particularly those at the intersection of these marginalized groups, by insisting that:
Companies that own global AI platforms should involve local communities in governing their AI-driven platforms and take measures to create a workforce that includes marginalized populations;
Governments and companies that use AI must be more accountable and transparent in disclosing radically more information about the nature of their rulemaking and enforcement concerning expression on their platforms.
At a technological level, the West should avoid the so called AI race but proactively fortify their own and foreign digital diplomacy through robust government-backed policies and programs that foster a healthy AI ecosystem, like the EU, based on trust. In practical terms, this should include investing in public spatial data infrastructure projects in the Global South in order to monitor and control data flows, building better algorithms that effectively counter Chinese information strategies. The West should also seek ways to engage countries that violate-human rights by showing them the long-term benefits of a liberal world order and cushioning them from being victims of the current geopolitical and geoeconomic realignment contest.
Just like the European Union, these countries should adopt a more assertive policy stance towards Beijing over the openness of Chinese markets and the role of state-led firms, and in this context, the Chinese AI firms such as Tencent, Alibaba and Baidu also.
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