Friday

18th Oct 2019

Malta raises alarm on Russia in Libya

  • The Kuznetsov, with smoke in the background, in 2012 (Photo: royalnavy.mod.uk)

A Russian-backed Libyan warlord could start a “civil war” in Libya, increasing refugee flows to the EU, Malta has warned.

The danger comes as the Libyan commander, Khalifa Haftar, advances on Tripoli, the seat of the UN-recognised government, Malta’s foreign minister, George Vella, told press in Valletta on Friday (13 January).

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

  • Fall of Gaddafi in 2011 led to the lawless situation in Libya (Photo: Martin Beek)

“Haftar with his army is moving gradually, slowly from the east to the west … and possibly, eventually linking up with his colleagues from the west, from Zintane, and advancing in a pincer movement on the region of Bani Walid, Misrata, and Tripoli”, Vella said.

“That would be disastrous because it would create civil war and it would create more refugees running away from Libya”, he said.

Vella also raised the alarm on Haftar’s contacts with Russia.

He said Russia had so far respected a UN embargo on weapons transfers to Libya, even though Haftar had been “going to Moscow asking for arms”.

But he added that Moscow, which has funded Haftar, had a strategic interest in establishing a foothold in the central Mediterranean.

“It’s very difficult to predict what’s going to happen”, Vella said.

"I'm not comfortable. We all know the Russians' dreams have always been to have [military] bases in the Mediterranean”, he said.

Haftar, on Thursday, toured Russia’s aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, as it was sailing from Syria.

He also held a video call with Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu in which they discussed “urgent issues in the fight against international terrorist groups in the Middle East”, a Russian statement said.

Collapsing state

The EU, with the Maltese presidency at its helm for the next six months, is keen to strike a deal with the Libyan government in Tripoli, the GNA, on reducing the flow of migrants to Europe.

Libya became the primary route for asylum seekers after the EU closed the Western Balkan corridor, with the refugee crisis high on the political agenda in France and Germany.

Even without the Haftar problem, the EU was finding it hard to make headway.

Another warlord, Khalifa Ghwell, tried to stage an anti-GNA coup in Tripoli on Thursday, highlighting the fragility of the country.

“At the moment, things are not happy in Tripoli,” Malta’s Vella said on Friday.

“Libya is on the brink of becoming a failed state. Let’s hope we won't go that far”, he said.

He added that the GNA and Italy had held talks on a potential migrant deal, but that they were “far, far apart” in their positions.

Russia and Syria

Valla spoke with the GNA prime minister, Fayez Sarraj, on Thursday.

EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels for the first time in 2017 aim to speak mainly about the war in Syria and the Middle East Peace Process.

An EU diplomat said “there will be a debate about Russia’s role in the Syrian conflict … but no specific debate on Russia itself”. He said Libya “should be” discussed in February.

Russia has been accused of war crimes for targeting civilians and hospitals in Syria.

It is fighting on the side of the Syrian regime, which has allowed it to expand its naval base in the country.

Russia’s Syria campaign has also drawn accusations that it was trying to influence French and German politics by increasing refugee flows to Europe via Turkey.

Speaking in Brussels on Friday, the departing US ambassador to the EU, Anthony Gardner, said Russian president Vladimir Putin was not a partner for the West.

"To think that Russia is somehow seeking to promote our shared agenda is folly”, he said.

He added that it would be “inconceivable and shameful if we would consider lightening sanctions on Russia”, referring to EU and US economic sanctions, which were imposed over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Trump card

The incoming US president, Donald Trump, is a wild card in Russia relations, however.

He has praised Russia, but his nominees for US security chiefs have condemned its actions.

Another EU priority is to see where Trump stands on the Middle East peace process.

Trump has said he might move the US embassy from Tel Aviv, Israel’s internationally-recognised capital, to Jerusalem, which it claimed by conquest from Palestine.

"If he does all the threats he said he would, he will not just violate EU policy, but also international order”, a senior EU diplomat said.

EU mulls Turkey-type migrant deal with Libya

The Maltese EU presidency said a "similar approach" to the Turkey deal could stop migrants coming from Libya, but the UN said the plan was a non-starter.

EU unveils €200m Libya migrant project

The EU commission has earmarked €200 million to enhance surveillance and better train the Libyan coastguard to stop migrants coming to Europe.

News in Brief

  1. Almost 7,500 people forcibly returned to Libya in 2019
  2. Puigdemont released after responding to arrest warrant
  3. Commission: Facebook's Libra needs international approach
  4. Italian PM: denial of accession talks a 'historic mistake'
  5. Catalan president blames clashes on 'infiltrators'
  6. US imposes €6.7bn new tariffs on European products
  7. G7: Libra should not operate until all risks addressed
  8. Kurds agree with US-Turkey ceasefire but not safe-zone

Column

These are the crunch issues for the 2019-2024 EU commission

These developments will largely determine who will be running the world in the coming decades and perhaps generations. If the Europeans can't find an answer over the five years, they will be toast. And we haven't even mentioned climate change.

Opinion

Time to pay attention to Belarus

Belarus may be hosting the European Games, but Vladimir Putin is not playing games when it comes to Belarus' independence. The West needs to get serious as well.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture
  2. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  3. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  4. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  6. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  10. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  12. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  2. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  3. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  4. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  8. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  9. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  12. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us