Sunday

18th Nov 2018

Interview

Russia building 'arc of iron' around Europe

  • Haftar toured Russia's aircraft carrier while it sailed past Libya earlier this year (Photo: royalnavy.mod.uk)

Russia’s intervention in Libya is designed to surround Europe in a “great game” of geostrategy, Italy’s former military chief has said.

Luigi Binelli Mantelli, who led Italy’s armed forces from 2013 to 2015, told EUobserver that Russia’s attempt to gain a foothold in Libya was about bigger issues than oil, migrants, or terrorists.

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

  • Binelli Mantelli (l) led Italy's armed forces for two years (Photo: eeas.europa.eu)

He said Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s main objective was for Russia to “play a growing role as a global power, somehow overcoming even the US as a leader of the post-Cold War international order”.

He said Russia was doing this by “strengthening its strategic presence” in the Arctic, the Baltic, the Black Sea, and in the Mediterranean region in what he called an “arc of iron”.

The retired admiral said his views were his own and did not represent the official position of Italy, a former colonial power in Libya, which is leading EU efforts to establish order in the fragmented country.

The new “arc of iron” has seen Russia reopen Soviet-era bases in the High North and redouble military forces in its Kaliningrad exclave in the Baltic.

Three years ago, it seized Crimea from Ukraine and has built up its military presence in the Black Sea peninsula.

It has reinforced its naval base in Syria and has agreed with China to share a new naval facility in Djibouti.

It is also cultivating close ties with Egypt and with a Libyan warlord, Khalifa Haftar.

“If you look at the [Russian] naval bases, in particular the joint base with China, Europe is in a way surrounded on its eastern side and its southern side”, Binelli Mantelli said.

He said the Ukraine conflict had reached a “stalemate”, but that the West was now in “open competition” with Russia for influence in the Mediterranean region.

In Libya, Russia has given money, equipment, training, and diplomatic support to Haftar, a former army chief who controls the east of the country.

Libya and Haftar

Binelli Mantelli said Haftar was the only man who looked capable of re-establishing order.

EU and Nato states have backed the UN-recognised Government of National Unity (GNA) in Tripoli, but the Italian admiral said the GNA was “weak”.

“The only party in Libya … that has the chance to regain unity or at least power over the country is Haftar. The government in Tripoli is very weak and divided and could collapse at any time”, said Binelli Mantelli.

He said it was “reasonable” to think Putin would ask Haftar’s permission to build a Russian naval base in Libya in return for his support.

Binelli Mantelli said Russian deployments should not be seen “in terms of military operations” against the EU, but “in terms of a grand strategy, a great game” to enhance its global status.

He said it was Nato’s, not the EU’s, role to vie for influence with Russia.

EU states have outlined plans for deeper military cooperation, but these are at an early stage.

They are divided on core issues, such as further integration and on how to handle the migrant crisis. They are also trying to cope with Brexit and with an inward turn by the US under Donald Trump.

“The EU is, in my view, today, not a strategic power,” Binelli Mantelli said.

Realpolitik

The West made a mistake, he said, by “moving too fast” in trying to align with countries such as Georgia, which Russia also invaded in 2008, and Ukraine.

He said that a “more cautious approach” in the “sensitive” former Soviet sphere might have given “more positive results” in terms of expanding Western influence there.

The West ought to “adopt a sharp and realistic strategy with Russia … which means cooperation more than open opposition to Putin's moves,” he said, referring to cooperation on migrants, counter-terrorism, and Libyan reconstruction.

He said it should “compete” with Russia at the same time by forging its own ties with China, Egypt, Iran, and Libya.

Binelli Mantelli said he was speaking in terms of “realpolitik”, putting aside his views on democratic or humanitarian values.

“I’m not in favour of Putin. I’m just being realistic”, he said.

“Haftar is the best realpolitik choice in Libya, not the best in terms of democracy or humanitarian rights,” he said.

“In Libya, you need someone strong, like Gaddafi, who was capable of keeping these people [Libya’s armed tribes] under the thumb. It’s not politically correct, but you should be realistic,” he said, referring to Libya’s late dictator, Muammar Gaddafi.

A French translation of this article may be found here.

A German translation of this article may be found here.

Interview

Russland baut einen 'Bogen aus Eisen' um Europa

Russlands Intervention in Libyen ist laut des ehemaligen italienischen Militärchefs darauf ausgerichtet Europa in einem “Great Game” der Geostrategie einzukreisen.

Most Libya migrants not headed to EU, aid group says

The International Organisation for Migration interviewed thousands of migrants in Libya last year. It found that 60 percent did not want to go to Europe, but had aimed to remain and find work in Libya.

News in Brief

  1. US warns EU banks and firms against trading with Iran
  2. Merkel urged Romania not to move embassy to Jerusalem
  3. Protesters call for Czech leader to step down
  4. Former German chancellor labelled 'enemy' of Ukraine
  5. French lead opposition to Brexit deal on fisheries
  6. Private accounts of Danske Bank employees investigated
  7. UK's May defends Brexit deal to MPs, after ministers resign
  8. Brexit MP calls for 'no confidence' vote on May

Opinion

Macron's 'European army': why is everyone talking about it?

Few people commented on one key point in Macron's statement: he did not justify the idea of a European army by the need to intervene in Africa, which would have been France's traditional approach. Instead, he invoked the Russian threat,

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  4. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  5. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  6. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  7. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  8. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs.
  9. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  10. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  12. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs

Latest News

  1. Brexit dominates EU affairs This WEEK
  2. How the EU commission got tunnel vision on self-driving cars
  3. No-confidence calls against May put Brexit deal in doubt
  4. Key points of the Brexit deal (if it ever comes into effect)
  5. Romania heaps scorn on 'revolting' EU criticism
  6. US steps in to clean up Cyprus
  7. 'Decisive progress' on Brexit as British cabinet backs deal
  8. Asylum for Macedonia's ex-PM puts Orban on spot

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  3. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  5. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  7. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  9. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  10. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us