By Giancarlo Elia Valori*
A 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.
About the author:
*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 “La Centrale Finanziaria Generale Spa”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group and member of the Ayan-Holding Board. 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 of “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France.
This article was published by Modern Diplomacy