Citizens of the Middle East and North Africa are feeling the impacts of the war in Europe on their food security, energy prices, and job markets.

They are torn between sympathizing with Ukrainians fleeing their homes and cities destroyed by Russian weapons and remembering how the world looked away as the same weapons were recking havoc on Syria and Libya only a few years ago.

Meanwhile, regional governments, including America’s traditional allies, are hedging their bets between Russia and the U.S.-led Western camp, playing on time to better evaluate the impacts of the war and to ease the restraints it is imposing on the fragile economies and social fabrics of the region.

Carnegie experts take a look at how countries across the Middle East and North Africa are responding to Russia’s war in Ukraine.


By Frederic Wehrey

In Libya, the Ukraine crisis will have far-reaching geostrategic, political, and humanitarian effects—and it comes at an especially fraught moment in the country’s post-revolutionary era.

The 2019–2020 civil war saw Russian mercenaries from the Kremlin-linked Wagner Group, along with regular military personnel, intervene on behalf of eastern-based militia commander Khalifa Haftar.

The war ended with thousands of Russian fighters, along with advanced warplanes and other military equipment, firmly ensconced around oil fields and in air bases across the country.

In the midst of the Ukraine conflict, these Russian forces—counterbalanced by hundreds of Turkish advisers and thousands of Turkish-backed Syrian mercenaries in western Libya—have not withdrawn in large numbers. For one, they now provide Russia with strategic leverage on NATO’s southern flank, as well as the ability to hold at risk oil production.
Moreover, their presence on Libyan territory has given Moscow a springboard for disruptive power projection into the Sahel countries to the south. That said, as Russia’s losses in Ukraine continue to mount, it will likely be compelled to transfer Wagner Group personnel and military hardware from Libya to the Ukraine front.

Russian-Turkish coordination in Libya has been one of the checks on the eruption of another round of nationwide fighting among Libyan factions. In the short term, this arrangement is likely to endure, as both Moscow and Ankara still have an interest in using diplomatic maneuvering to secure their economic and political goals in Libya.

And Turkey, despite its military support to Ukraine, is leery of opening additional theaters of confrontation with Russia and has recently positioned itself as a mediator.

Over the long term, however, this restraint could diminish in Libya, especially if Russia decides to escalate, if Turkey takes a harder line due to a reinvigorated NATO, or if competing Libyan camps eventually resort to military force.

This latter risk has increased with the recent standoff in Tripoli between two rival claimants to the office of prime minister, though for now jockeying and dealmaking carry the day.

Beyond these strategic effects, the prolongation of the Ukraine war will cause mounting economic hardships for Libyan citizens.

This is especially evident in growing food insecurity: Libya imports about 75 percent of its wheat from either Ukraine or Russia and, with limited wheat reserves, it will be forced to pay a premium to lock in alternate suppliers like Brazil and Argentina.

The resulting spike in bread prices could put additional public pressure on the already ineffective government in Tripoli.

On the energy front, initial expectations for increased demand for Libyan crude stemming from the war in Ukraine have been offset by the projected slowdown in global economic growth, as well as the periodic weaponization of oil flows by Libyan factions, evident recently in the brief shutdown of two major oil fields by an armed group.


Frederic Wehrey is a senior fellow in the Middle East Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, where his research focuses on governance, conflict, and security in Libya, North Africa, and the Persian Gulf.


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