Sunday

20th Aug 2017

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.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now and get 40% off for an annual subscription. Sale ends soon.

  1. €90 per year. Use discount code EUOBS40%
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • 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. Macedonia sacks top prosecutor over wiretap scandal
  2. ECB concerned stronger euro could derail economic recovery
  3. Mixed Irish reactions to post-Brexit border proposal
  4. European Union returns to 2 percent growth
  5. Russian power most feared in Europe
  6. Ireland continues to refuse €13 billion in back taxes from Apple
  7. UK unemployment lowest since 1975
  8. Europe facing 'explosive cocktail' in its backyard, report warns

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceDoes Genetics Explain Why So Few of Us Have an Ideal Cardiovascular Health?
  2. EU2017EEFuture-Themed Digital Painting Competition Welcomes Artists - Deadline 31 Aug
  3. ACCABusinesses Must Grip Ethics and Trust in the Digital Age
  4. European Jewish CongressEJC Welcomes European Court of Justice's Decision to Keep Hamas on Terror List
  5. UNICEFReport: Children on the Move From Africa Do Not First Aim to Go to Europe
  6. Centre Maurits CoppietersWe Need Democratic and Transparent Free Trade Agreements Says MEP Jordi Solé
  7. Counter BalanceOut for Summer, Ep. 2: EIB Promoting Development in Egypt - At What Cost?
  8. EU2017EELocal Leaders Push for Local and Regional Targets to Address Climate Change
  9. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceMore Women Than Men Have Died From Heart Disease in Past 30 Years
  10. European Jewish CongressJean-Marie Le Pen Faces Trial for Oven Comments About Jewish Singer
  11. ACCAAnnounces Belt & Road Research at Shanghai Conference
  12. ECPAFood Waste in the Field Can Double Without Crop Protection. #WithOrWithout #Pesticides

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EU2017EEEstonia Allocates €1 Million to Alleviate Migratory Pressure From Libya in Italy
  2. Dialogue PlatformFethullah Gulen's Message on the Anniversary of the Coup Attempt in Turkey
  3. Martens CentreWeeding Out Fake News: An Approach to Social Media Regulation
  4. European Jewish CongressEJC Concerned by Normalisation of Antisemitic Tropes in Hungary
  5. Counter BalanceOut for Summer Ep. 1: How the EIB Sweeps a Development Fiasco Under the Rug
  6. CESICESI to Participate in Sectoral Social Dialogue Committee on Postal Services
  7. ILGA-EuropeMalta Keeps on Rocking: Marriage Equality on Its Way
  8. European Friends of ArmeniaEuFoA Director and MEPs Comment on the Recent Conflict Escalation in Nagorno-Karabakh
  9. EU2017EEEstonian Presidency Kicks off Youth Programme With Coding Summer School
  10. EPSUEP Support for Corporate Tax Transparency Principle Unlikely to Pass Reality Check
  11. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament Improves the External Investment Plan but Significant Challenges Ahead
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersCloser Energy Co-Operation Keeps Nordic Region on Top in Green Energy