Thursday

25th May 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.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

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. Pressure grows on climate impact of EU timber harvesting
  2. US goes after Fiat Chrysler over emissions cheat
  3. Munich police break up Europe-wide burglar clan
  4. Report: VW threatened with €19.7 billion French fine
  5. Turkey begins mass trial of suspected coup leaders
  6. Merkel's CDU consolidates lead in polls
  7. France to host Russian president
  8. Switzerland votes against nuclear power

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFChild Alert on Myanmar: Fruits of Rapid Development yet to Reach Remote Regions
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersBecome an Explorer - 'Traces of Nordic' Seeking Storytellers Around the World
  3. Malta EU 2017Closer Cooperation and Reinforced Solidarity to Ensure Security of Gas Supply
  4. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceHigh-Intensity Interval Training Is Therapeutic Option for Type 2 Diabetes
  5. Dialogue Platform"The West Must Help Turkey Return to a Democratic Path" a Call by Fethullah Gulen
  6. ILGA-EuropeRainbow Europe 2017 Is Live - Which Countries Are Leading on LGBTI Equality?
  7. Centre Maurits CoppietersWhen You Invest in a Refugee Woman You Help the Whole Community
  8. Eurogroup for AnimalsECJ Ruling: Member States Given No Say on Wildlife Protection In Trade
  9. European Heart NetworkCall for Urgent Adoption of EU-Wide Nutrient Profiles for Nutrition & Health Claims
  10. Counter BalanceInvestment Plan for Europe More Climate Friendly but European Parliament Shows Little Ambition
  11. Mission of China to the EUPresident Xi: China's Belt and Road Initiative Benefits People Around the World
  12. Malta EU 2017EU Strengthens Control of the Acquisition and Possession of Firearms

Latest News

  1. Openness over Brexit is 'political play', says EU ombudsman
  2. Le Pen's EU group in fresh spending scandal
  3. New EU right to data portability to cause headaches
  4. Cyber threats are inevitable, paralyzing impact is not
  5. Transparency complaints keep EU Ombudsman busy
  6. EU sets out criteria for relocating UK agencies
  7. EU states back bill against online hate speech
  8. Dutch coalition talks collapse again

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership for Human RightsThe Cost of Speaking Out: Human Rights Violations Committed in Belarus
  2. ACCABanishing Bias? Audit, Objectivity and the Value of Professional Scepticism
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Oslo Climate Declaration Focuses on Rising Temperatures in the Arctic
  4. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceAbdominal Obesity: A Causal Risk Factor for Cardiometabolic Diseases
  5. EU Green Week 2017Discuss EU Environmental Policies With Industry Experts and Thought Leaders
  6. GEN Summit 2017Join the World's Leading Media Summit for Thought-Provoking Talks and Experiences
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsTogether for Human Rights: A Year in Review
  8. Malta EU 2017EU All Set for Free Roaming Starting 15 June
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersRefugee Unemployment Biggest Drain on Public Purse, Says New Nordic Studies
  10. Dialogue Platform17,000 Women, 515 Babies in Turkish Prisons, a Report Reveals
  11. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceCharlotte Hornets' Nicolas Batum Tells Kids to "Eat Well, Drink Well, Move!"
  12. ECR GroupSyed Kamall: We Need a New, More Honest Relationship With Turkey