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What’s Russia looking for In Libya?

Russia’s engagement with Libya’s General Khalifa Haftar serves anti-terrorist, economic and geostrategic purposes.

Andrew Korybko

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Moscow’s unfolding strategy towards Libya could have a lot more to do with Cairo than observers realise.

The Western press’ anti-Russian hysteria has spread to North Africa, with feverish reports circulating among the Mainstream Media warning about a speculative Russian special forces deployment to Egypt.  According to the prevailing narrative that’s being pushed, Russia is considering some form of clandestine or overt low-intensity military involvement in neighbouring Libya, though this has been officially denied by Moscow. Rumours spread late last year about a possible Russian base in Sidi Barrani, which housed a Soviet-era facility during the Cold War and is also the scene of the latest chatter, but these were also refuted at the time, too.

There’s no telling exactly why the West is promulgating these same debunked reports again, but one of the reasons might have to do with Moscow’s latest diplomatic engagement with the East Libyan forces of General Khalifa Haftar. He was flown out of the country by helicopter to meet with Russian military officials aboard the Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier in early January, and it’s presumed that the two sides spoke about how Russia could aid the general in his anti-terrorist crusade in the country. Accordingly, gossip spread like wildfire soon thereafter, and the West began nervously watching Libya for signs of what some of its representatives were convinced might have been an imminent “Russian invasion”.

That scenario obviously hasn’t been forthcoming, but it’s still realistically feasible to countenance that Russia’s assistance to Haftar might one day move beyond potential arms shipments and medical treatment for wounded soldiers and into the realm of intelligence, advisory, and possibly even special forces assistance, with none other than Sidi Barrani being the most likely location for housing Russia’s operational headquarters.

To be clear, there’s no indication that this is in the works at all, though it’s curious to note that the self-proclaimed East Libyan-based House of Representatives recently extended an invitation to the members of the defence and foreign affairs committees of the Russian Duma to visit their territory.

Russian Presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov also just reaffirmed that his country “is of course interested in Libya stabilising in one way or another” because it “wants (an) authority in Libya who could combat terrorism”, though he unequivocally dismissed any prospect for an “excessive intervention”.

Therefore, what’s most likely to happen is that Russia will continue intensifying its military-diplomatic contacts with Haftar but will refrain from any conventional intervention in Libya’s affairs. The most immediate and pressing purpose behind this engagement is to help clear the country of terrorists, but there are also three other supplementary imperatives driving this policy as well, the most important of which is Russia’s desire to solidify Egypt’s multipolar pivot.

Other than the anti-terrorist cooperation that was already described, here’s what Russia might be looking for in Libya:

Energy Influence

Libya hosts the world’s 10th-largest oil reserves and the biggest ones in Africa, though it’s been stuck in underproduction ever since the NATO War on Libya led to the assassination of Gaddafi and turned the bombed-out country into a clan-centric patchwork of rival Islamist factions. The subsequent civil war that erupted shortly afterwards ground most production to a halt, though it’s been steadily recovering in the years since.

Russia doesn’t want to control what it hopes to be Haftar’s post-war oil spoils, but it could understandably want to exercise a degree of influence over them in order to help regulate the global energy market and prevent another price glut such as the one which contributed to weakening the rouble over the past two years.

To this end, it’s foreseeable that Moscow’s crucial anti-terrorist assistance (weapons, diplomatic backing, and possible intelligence, advisory, and special forces) to Haftar during his forces’ liberation and unification campaign could be rewarded in the form of profitable energy contracts for rebuilding and exporting some of Libya’s oil. In that case, Russia wouldn’t just earn monetary profits, but also strategic ones as well, since it would be powerfully positioned to indirectly influence the North African state’s energy policies and affiliated relations, both with its export partners and OPEC. Therefore, it’s reasonable to infer that Russian strategists – being the far-sighted experts that they’ve proven to be over the years – might have their eyes set on Libya’s enormous oil reserves, and they understand that effective anti-terrorist cooperation is the quickest way to achieve this far-sighted objective.

Geostrategic Positioning

Another commonly held — although widely fear mongered – explanation for Russia’s upsurge of anti-terrorist interest in Libya is that Moscow wants to establish a geostrategic foothold in the Southern Mediterranean to expand its existing footprint in the Eastern portion. What this explanation fails to provide, however, is the contextual differences between what Russia has already attained in Syria and what it might be looking for in Libya. Whereas the Tartus naval station is slated to undergo modernisation and expansion in the near future, there aren’t any indications whatsoever that Russia wants something similar in Libya, despite this lying at the heart of Western fears. Instead, it’s much more likely that the extent of Russia’s potentially envisioned military influence in Libya has a lot more to do with weapons sales and the high-level strategic relationships that accompany them than conventional basing rights.

Russia is wise enough to predict that any tangible moves in the direction of opening up a military facility in Libya could be a tripwire for triggering a harsh Western reaction, up to and including another an all-out bombing campaign or even a limited ground invasion aimed at thwarting what NATO might pretend is a “threat” to its interests. This could only result in more pain and destruction for the Libyan people, so Moscow would likely seek to prevent this from happening. On top of that, conventional weaponry and related deployments are becoming increasingly less important in the era of 21st-century (post-) modern warfare, so this possibility wouldn’t be high on Russia’s list of priorities anyhow when considering the costs that it would probably entail. Therefore, what Moscow would need in order to strengthen its geostrategic position in Libya is a soft military presence that sidesteps NATO’s tripwires and avoids the heavy costs associated with much more conventional deployments.

The most effective solution which meets these conditions while also promoting Russia’s influence is the future dispatch of trainers, advisors, and military maintenance mechanics after (or maybe even before?) Libya’s War on Terror is over. This would give Russia a much more robust and flexible presence in Libya than any conventional basing rights ever could, meaning that Moscow could invariably achieve much higher geostrategic dividends through a lower-level and more indirect form of commitment than if it opted to pursue a high-level and direct one through trying to open up official naval, air, or land facilities there. In a nutshell, Russia wants to do ‘more with less’, and it might be betting on Haftar to liberate Libya from terrorists and reunify the country so that it can call upon its close relations with him afterwards in order to restore Moscow’s Soviet-era relationship with Tripoli.

Strengthening Egypt’s Pivot

The last, but most important, supplementary reason behind why Russia is so interested in lending anti-terrorist support to Haftar’s Libyan forces is because this helps Moscow to reinforce Cairo’s multipolar pivot. President Sisi has recently embarked on taking his country in the direction of multipolarity, strengthening Egypt’s historic relations with Russia and even expressing principled support for Syrian President Bashar Assad. Not only that, but he’s also working real closely with China and is supposedly in talks with Iran to normalise relations with Tehran, all of which have earned him the severe consternation of his Saudi patrons. Egypt has been progressively transitioning from the unipolar to the multipolar bloc, though smartly without doing so in the sort of radical fashion which would otherwise prompt a Hybrid War or other disruptive destabilisation (though that’s not to say that one isn’t in the cards, however).

At this very sensitive time, Egypt needs to be made aware of just how much its pivot means to Russia, and there’s no better way for Moscow to express this than to covertly join forces with Cairo in combating terrorism in neighbouring Libya. Cairo has long been suspected of backing Haftar and the House of Representatives Tobruk government in Eastern Libya, so it comes as a highly symbolic move that Russia is now in the process of supporting him as well, albeit with much more international attention than Egypt is receiving. Under these circumstances, Russia doesn’t need to deploy special forces and drones to Sidi Barrani in order to prove its allied anti-terrorist commitment to Egypt, although that theoretical eventuality could one day come in handy and be a force multiplier in decisively giving Haftar the game-changing support that he might need in liberating and reunifying his country.   

The trust-building anti-terrorist coordination between Russia and Egypt in Libya is undeclared at this time but can logically be inferred through the overlap of common interests that Moscow and Cairo have in aiding Haftar to varying degrees, the end effect of which will hopefully be to give him the boost that he needs in restoring security to this NATO-destroyed North African failed state. By helping to stabilise Libya in its own way, Russia is proving to Egypt that the latter made the right choice in its developing multipolar pivot and that there are immediate benefits for it such as the drastically improved prospects that Haftar will succeed in wiping out the terrorists next door. Conclusively, although Russia’s latest anti-terrorist moves in Libya (not the fake news that was propagated) obviously have some energy-military motivations, they’re actually predicated more on the much grander intention of cementing Egypt’s multipolar pivot and geostrategically reshaping the larger Middle EastNorth Africa region.

DISCLAIMER: The author writes for this publication in a private capacity which is unrepresentative of anyone or any organization except for his own personal views. Nothing written by the author should ever be conflated with the editorial views or official positions of any other media outlet or institution. 

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Theresa May’s soft Brexit plan continues to fail, as EU now pushing for UK to leave (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 138.

Alex Christoforou

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Theresa May’s soft Brexit strategy has been such a monumental failure that even Brussels negotiators are now pushing for the UK to simply leave the union, in what has becoming a British debacle, and a thorn in the Conservative Party’s side.

Many media pundits and analysts are now asking if the latest impasse in Brexit talks means that we are indeed seeing the last days of Theresa May?

While much of the mess the Conservative Party finds themselves in because of Brexit is squarely Theresa May’s fault, much of the damage done by May’s inability to close the deal on Brexit will not go away, even if she does.

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss Theresa May’s continued failure to obtain her soft Brexit dream, placing herself (and her Conservative Party) in such an embarrassing position, that European Union negotiators, tired of never ending talks, are eager to see Britain go away, in what will be an inevitable hard Brexit.

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“Are these the last days of Theresa May?”, authored by Stephen Bush via The New Statesman:


Are these the last days of Theresa May? This morning’s papers are full of stories of plots and ultimatums to the Prime Minister unless she changes her Brexit strategy, whether from her Scottish MPs over any extension of the transition period due to concerns over fisheries policy, from her Brexiteer MPs over the backstop or from her Cabinet over practically everything.

All this before the Budget next Monday, when Philip Hammond is going to have to find some way to pay for the extra cash for the NHS and Universal Credit all while keeping to May’s pledge that debt will continue to fall as a share of GDP. So added to all May’s Brexit woes, a row over tax rises could be coming down the track.

Of course, the PM’s position has been perilous for a very long time – in fact, when you remember that her period of hegemony ran from July 2016 to June 2017, she’s actually been under threat for more of her premiership than she hasn’t. But just because you roll heads 36 times in a row doesn’t mean your chances of rolling tails aren’t 50/50 on roll 37, and May’s luck could well be running out.

But while May shares a good size of the blame for the mess that the Conservative Party are in, it’s not all her fault by any means and none of those problems will go away if May is replaced or changes tack to win over her internal opponents in the European Research Group.

Ireland has a veto over the end state and only an indefinite and legally binding backstop for the island of Ireland will do if any deal is to be signed off. It’s true to say that no deal also means a hard border on the island of Ireland, but it’s also true that it will always been in the political interests of whoever is in office in Ireland for a hard border to be imposed as a result of no deal rather than for the Irish government to acquiesce in the creation of one through a EU-UK treaty.

The DUP can bring the Conservative government to an early end so they, too, have a de facto veto over any deal that creates barriers between Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom. But the only UK-wide solution – for the backstop to encompass the whole of the United Kingdom – is nothing doing with pro-Brexit Conservative MPs who don’t want an indefinite backstop. It’s also politically tricky with many EU member states, who don’t want the default outcome of the talks to be a UK-wide backstop, which many regard as a threat to the sanctity of single market. (The only reason why it is acceptable on the Irish border is because Ireland is still a member state and because the Irish border was both the location and the cause of political violence within living memory.)

Added to that, the Conservative parliamentary party seems to be undergoing a similar psychological journey to the one that Steve van Riel described during the 2015 Labour leadership election: that groups of any kind tend to reach a more extreme position the longer an issue is debated. Brexiteers who spent 20 years saying they wanted a Norway style deal now talk of Norway as a betrayal. Leavers who cheerily talked about making Northern Ireland into its own customs area before Brexit now talk of the backstop as a constitutional betrayal. And Conservative Remainers who only reluctantly backed an In vote to avoid the political upheaval of negotiating Brexit, or the loss of David Cameron, now call for a referendum re-run and privately flirt with the idea of a new party.

Some of that is May’s fault, yes. But none of it is going to go away if she does and all of it makes the prospect of reaching a Brexit deal considerably less likely.

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Saudi Crown Prince Spoke To Khashoggi By Phone Moments Before He Was Killed: Report

The shifting Saudi narrative of the killing has been met with scepticism and condemnation from the international community.

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Via Zerohedge


In the latest bombshell report involving the Khashoggi murder, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman reportedly spoke on the phone with journalist Jamal Khashoggi moments before he was murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Turkish pro-government daily Yeni Safak disclosed the new alleged details of the case in a report on Sunday, contradicting claims by Saudi authorities that Prince Mohammed played no part in Khashoggi’s murder.

“Khashoggi was detained by the Saudi team inside the consulate building. Then Prince Mohammed contacted Khashoggi by phone and tried to convince him to return to Riyadh,” the report said.

“Khashoggi refused Prince Mohammed’s offer out of fear he would be arrested and killed if he returned. The assassination team then killed Khashoggi after the conversation ended,” it added.

While the report is so far unconfirmed, the New Arab reports that so far Turkish pro-government media have been receiving a steady stream of leaks many of which turned out to be accurate, including pictures of the hit team as they entered Turkey and reports of audio recordings of the murder said to be in the possession of Turkish authorities.

Meanwhile, the Saudi version of events has been changing significantly over the past two weeks with authorities conceded Saturday that Khashoggi, the Washington Post columnist and a Riyadh critic, was killed inside the kingdom’s Istanbul diplomatic compound following a “brawl”. The admission came after a fortnight of denials with the insistence that the journalist left the consulate alive, starting on October 5, when Crown Prince MBS told Bloomberg that Khashoggi was not inside the consulate and “we are ready to welcome the Turkish government to go and search our premises”.

On Saturday, the kingdom announced it had fired five top officials and arrested 18 others in an investigation into the killing – a move that has widely been viewed as an attempt to cover up the crown prince’s role in the murder.

The shifting Saudi narrative of the killing has been met with scepticism and condemnation from the international community, and has left the U.S. and other allies struggling for a response on Sunday. As Bloomberg reports, France demanded more information, Germany put arms sales to Riyadh on hold and the Trump administration stressed the vital importance of the kingdom and its economy to the U.S.

In Sunday radio and TV interviews, Dominic Raab, the U.K. politician in charge of negotiating Britain’s exit from the European Union, described the latest Saudi account as not credible; French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire called for “the truth’’; and Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said his government would approve no arms sales so long as the investigation was ongoing.

Earlier on Sunday, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir acknowledged a cover-up attempt. The dramatic reversal, after Saudi officials had previously said the columnist left the building alive, has only complicated the issue for allies.

Saudi Arabia’s al-Jubeir told Fox News on Sunday that the journalist’s death was an “aberration.”

“There obviously was a tremendous mistake made and what compounded the mistake was the attempt to cover up,” he said, promising that “those responsible will be punished for it.”

More importantly, he said that Prince Mohammed had no knowledge of the events, although if the Turkish report is confirmed, it will be yet another major flaw with the official narrative.

Several senior members of US President Donald Trump’s Republican Party said they believed Prince Mohammed was linked to the killing, and one called for a “collective” Western response if a link is proved. In an interview with The Washington Post, President Trump, too, said the Saudi narrative had been marked by “deception and lies.’’ Yet he also defended Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as a “strong person,’’ and said there was no proof of his involvement in Khashoggi’s death. Some members of Congress have questioned his willingness to exonerate the prince.

“Obviously there’s been deception and there’s been lies,” Trump said on the shifting accounts offered by Riyadh.

On Sunday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan promised to disclose details about the case at a meeting of his AK Party’s parliamentary faction on Tuesday, Haberturk newspaper reported.

Meanwhile, as Western firms and high-ranked officials scramble to avoid any Saudi involvement, Russia is more than happy to step in and fill the power vacuum void left by the US. As a result, Russian businesses are flocking to attend the investment forum in Saudi Arabia, as Western counterparts pull out.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has had considerable success boosting Moscow’s influence in the Middle East at U.S. expense, by standing by regimes that fall afoul of the West, including in Syria and Iran. Last week Putin signed a strategic and partnership agreement with Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, backed by $25 billion in loans to build nuclear reactors. Until El-Sisi came to power, Egypt had been closely allied to the U.S.

Meanwhile, all eyes are fixed squarely on the Crown Prince whose position of power is looking increasingly perilous. Congressional leaders on Sunday dismissed the story proffered earlier by the Saudis, with Republican Senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Bob Corker of Tennessee saying they believed the crown prince was likely involved in Khashoggi’s death.

Lawmakers said they believe the U.S. must impose sanctions on Saudi Arabia or take other action if the crown prince is shown to have been involved. Speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, the chamber’s No. 2 Democrat, said the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. should be formally expelled until a third-party investigation is done. He said the U.S. should call on its allies to do the same.

“Unless the Saudi kingdom understands that civilized countries around the world are going to reject this conduct and make sure that they pay a price for it, they’ll continue doing it,”’ Durbin said.

The obvious question is what happens and how the Saudi royal family will respond if it is pushed too far, and whether the worst case scenario, a sharp cut in oil exports, could be on the table if MBS feels like he has little to lose from escalating the situation beyond a point of no return.

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The Biggest Winners In The Mediterranean Energy War

Energy companies are flocking to the Mediterranean after oil and gas discoveries in the territorial waters of Israel, Cyprus, and Egypt.

The Duran

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Authored by Vanand Meliksetian via Oilprice.com:


Former Vice-President of the United States Dick Cheney once said: “the good lord didn’t see fit to put oil and gas only where there are democratically elected states… Occasionally we have to operate in places where, all considered, one would not normally choose to go. But we go where the business is.” Europe is surrounded by states with abundant energy resources, but supply from these countries is not always as reliable. Russia, for example, is regularly accused of using energy as a weapon. However, major discoveries of gas in the Eastern Mediterranean could mitigate dependence on Russian gas.

The discovery of a gas field named Tamar near the coast of Israel in 2009 set off a wave of investments in the energy sector. After 9 years, companies are flocking to the region after other discoveries in the territorial waters of Israel, Cyprus, and Egypt. Ever larger finds in the Mediterranean Sea’s Levant Basin such as the Leviathan gas field in 2010 and Zohr in 2015, have the potential to transform the strategic importance of the region.

Turkey’s energy hub ambitions

Few states in the world are geographically so well positioned as Turkey. The country controls Russia’s only warm water port in the Black Sea and serves as a bridge between east and west. Therefore, during the Cold War Ankara was an indispensable member of NATO. More recently, Turkey has the ambition to become an energy hub for Middle Eastern and Caspian energy. Ankara has had mixed successes in attracting investors and maintaining political stability.

After Israel’s significant discoveries, a U.S. backed initiative presented Turkey as an energy hub. Although a land pipeline is the cheapest option to transport gas from the Mediterranean to Europe, political developments have stalled construction. President Erdogan’s escalating public denunciations of Israel have made Jerusalem look for other options. Furthermore, relations with Europe have also been damaged which would be dependent on Turkey as a transit country.

Egypt as the regional gas hub

Egypt’s has the third largest gas reserves in Africa. Therefore, its export-oriented LNG industry came on-stream in 2004 but was shut mid-2013 due to a lack of resources. The growth of the domestic market demanded ever larger volumes, which went at the expense of exports. Instead, Egypt started importing LNG. However, the discovery of the massive Zohr gas field, the largest in the Eastern Mediterranean, has turned around the situation. Egypt imported its last shipment of LNG in September 2018.

Although relations between Egypt and Israel are far from normal, privately held companies have been able to strike a deal. Starting from the first quarter of 2019, in 10 years 64 bcm worth $10 billion will be delivered. The agreement has stirred controversy in Egypt, which until recently was exporting to Israel. However, with this deal, Cairo comes closer in becoming an energy hub.

The recent signing of another agreement, this time with Nicosia to develop a subsea pipeline from Cyprus’ Aphrodite gas field, has been another important step. Cypriot gas will be pumped 400 miles (645 kilometers) to the south to Egypt’s LNG facilities. Difficult relations with Nicosia’s northern neighbors make a pipeline to the north highly unlikely.

Cairo has been able to act pragmatically concerning its relations with its neighbors such as Israel while taking advantage of the limited amount of options for exporting gas. The obvious winner in this context has been Egypt and its LNG industry. Its chances of becoming the regional energy hub instead of Turkey have significantly increased.

Turkey’s hope for luck

All littoral states of the Eastern Mediterranean struck ‘gold’ in the shape of natural gas except for Turkey. Ankara strongly opposes the exploitation of the gas resources in the exclusive economic zone of the Republic of Cyprus without a sharing agreement with Northern Cyprus’ Turkish inhabitants. The Turkish Navy prevented ships from Italy’s Eni from performing exploratory drilling off the coast of the Republic of Cyprus.

In search of its own luck, Ankara has set up a project to start looking for gas in the EEZ of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), which is only recognized by Turkey. Kudret Özersay, TRNC deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs, proclaimed the desire to turn the TRNC into an energy and electricity hub. However, it seems unlikely that investors will be willing to participate due to political and legal reasons.

The legal situation of the TRNC is an impediment to any major decision involving a longtime commitment worth billions. From an international point of view, the region is de jure part of the Republic of Cyprus, despite holding no control over the region. The TRNC holds no seat in the WTO.

Large investments require solid legal and political support for companies to earn back their investments. The current economic situation of Turkey makes it dependent on foreign money. However, stringent due diligence rules could impede some international banks in lending the necessary funds.

The Eastern Mediterranean Sea basin promises great rewards, but the risks are also high. With Turkey potentially being the only country that doesn’t profit from the gas bonanza, Ankara has acted aggressively to get what it regards as its fair share. However, it faces a united front from the other littoral states of the Eastern Mediterranean. Therefore, it is highly unlikely that Turkey will be able to profit in the same way as Cyprus, Egypt or Israel.

By Vanand Meliksetian for Oilprice.com

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