Russia pushing hard across Africa- especially Libya

Russia pushing hard across Africa- especially Libya

In May 2023 Libya’s state National Oil Corporation (NOC) and Russia’s Tatneft Oil Company (Libya Branch) announced a new oil discovery within the Ghadames oil basin located about 330 km southwest of Tripoli. While this news did not make international headlines it is a reminder of Russia’s continuing role in Libya and the broader continent. Russia’s influence across Africa has grown over the last decade through a mixture of private military companies (such as the Wagner Group) and Kremlin political strategists assigned to countries including Central African Republic and Madagascar.

Russia’s involvement in Africa has come into greater focus the since the invasion of Ukraine, which has seen Africa caught up in the middle of a new Cold War. Western anxieties about the Russian mercenary company Wagner Group have harmed Europe’s relations with several African countries. Meanwhile, U.S. officials view Moscow’s moves in Africa as a serious threat that benefits the Kremlin to the detriment of Western interests.

A recent report from the Atlantic Council explains that the military and security relationship between Russia and Africa forms the core of Russia’s influence in Africa. Also out of the Russian playbook is the ability of the Wagner Group to sponsor so called gray zone operations, for example, “strong disinformation campaigns,” that have “denied African governments, and the societies they represent, the ability to make informed choices.” Hence the fragility of Libya, a nation still grappling with long-standing political divisions and a protracted conflict between the east and the west. This makes the country susceptible to Russian ambitions.

In a recent op ed in Arab News , Hafed Al-Ghwell lays out the consequences of Russian involvement in Libya. “With each new Russian move to extend its presence, the balance of power in Libya keeps tilting, mostly in favor of the Haftar-dominated east... Moreover, Russia has also not been shy about making inroads with Haftar’s western rival, the Tripoli-based, Western-backed caretaker government led by Prime Minister Dbeibeh.” Russia is seemingly playing both sides in an effort to bolster military options in eastern Libya which, notwithstanding, could include developing a potential naval base on Europe's southern flank which would alter the balance of power in the region and also Libya's internal set-up.

Western nations have so far seemed unsure of how to respond as Moscow continues to initiate infrastructure projects, arms deals, and sales of agricultural goods. Russia also seeks to exert greater control over the flow of hydrocarbons into southern Europe. On a geostrategic level, entrenchment in Libya helps Russia secure a passageway into sub-Saharan Africa. Planners in Moscow apparently remember what then U.S. Vice President Richard Nixon said in 1957: that Libya occupies a "key strategic position" on the southern flank of NATO.

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