Mauro Indelicato

Russian interests, renewed French activism, immigration and relations with the Sahel: this is enough to make Libya , still today a fractured and fragmented country without a unified government, a powder keg ready to explode. And whose explosion could be well felt especially in Italy, where between energy interests and those linked to the fight against irregular immigration, what is happening is looked at very carefully and with no small concern.

InsideOver spoke about the Libyan dossier with Michela Mercuri , professor and military analyst, and Alessandro Scipione , who with AgenziaNova has been following the situation in Tripoli and Benghazi for some time. What emerges is a picture that once again sees Libya at the center of many international interests , both political and economic. A context in which any hypothesis of reconciliation between the various components within the North African country appears very distant.

Moscow is pushing for a new base in Cyrenaica

From a purely political point of view, Libya is fragmented into several parts . There is an internationally recognized government based in Tripoli, led by Misrata businessman Abdel Hamid Ddeibah . However, its executive is unable to have control of the country, to be honest it is barely able to impose itself in the Libyan capital itself. In fact, the west is controlled by a series of militias that sometimes respond to the prime minister and other times, depending on the interests at stake, act autonomously.

Certainly, Ddeibah’s sphere of influence does not go beyond Sirte: the east of Libya is in fact controlled by forces loyal to General Haftar , a strongman from Cyrenaica who for at least a decade has extended his power to almost the entire eastern part of the country. Further complicating the picture is the presence of two parliamentary chambers included, with the Skhirat agreements of 2015 , among the officially recognized institutions: the Council of State is located in Tripoli , elected in 2012 and today considered a sort of Libyan Senate, Tobruck, on the other hand, is home to the House of Representatives , elected in 2014. Two parliaments often in opposition and with dubious political legitimacy given that the elections took place more than ten years ago.

Michela Mercuri, who has been following the dossier closely for years, has no doubts: “The fragmentation of Libya – she declared on InsideOver – favors the appetites of all those actors, internal and external, who want to get their hands on this strategic territory” . Having a place in the sun in Libya would mean having a prominent place in a country overlooking the Mediterranean and rich in natural resources, oil and gas first and foremost. The impossibility for Italy and France , duelists even before allies in Libya, favored the emergence of other powers. For example , Turkey supports Prime Minister Ddeibah, while Russia has been very close to Haftar since 2015.

“Moscow now wants to take advantage of the distraction dictated by the war in Ukraine – underlined Mercuri – to make further agreements with Haftar”. The Kremlin’s first objective would be to establish a naval base in Cyrenaica : “This would strengthen Russia’s political and military posture in the Mediterranean and the Middle East – declared the teacher – a circumstance capable of altering quite a few balances”. Also because, Michela Mercuri recalled, Moscow is very present on the African continent and would like to further expand its influence: “We must not forget – added Mercuri – that Russia also wants to build a base in the heart of Africa”. An all-round investment, therefore, capable of capturing the fears of Western countries. Italy in the lead.

France’s newfound activism

When asked what Rome can do to reduce the scope of Russian activism, Michela Mercuri has no doubts in her answer: “We must intensify, as far as possible, contacts also with eastern Libya and therefore also with Haftar”, she said. declared. Italy, it is worth remembering, has official relations with the Ddeibah government, the only executive recognized by our country. With Haftar the channels have been in place for some time, but they are unofficial.

According to Michela Mercuri, having closer relations with those who control Cyrenaica would also guarantee Rome the possibility of parrying potential blows inflicted by an “ally”. The reference is to France: “ Paris is becoming active again in Libya – the teacher remarked – In recent days Paul Soler , President Macron’s envoy, met around thirty Libyan political and local leaders. Officially, the French government declares that it wants to stabilize Libya and that it wants to work in that direction, but I believe that instead it is a way to disturb Italy. Perhaps also to remain with contacts in Africa, given the recent difficulties of Paris in French-speaking Africa.”

“In my opinion – added Mercuri – these are questionable attempts , especially at a time when Italy has presented the political project relating to the Mattei plan. Rather than collaborating for a common European vision, Paris continues to put its own national interests first.” However, it is difficult to say whether the round of consultations ordered by the Elysée will have concrete effects or not. After all, a plan to return to being influential in such a delicate dossier cannot be designed in the space of a few days. Nor can a series of bilateral meetings be enough to implement it. The only certain thing to note in this phase is the return of French activism, which has disappeared or in any case been reduced in recent years.

Does the conflict in Libya risk moving to Niger?

There are also concerns related to the consequences that the chaos in Libya could have on neighboring countries and, in particular, on those of the Sahel . For example, the axis that has been created between General Haftar and the military junta in power in Niger is attracting particular attention, in Tripoli and beyond . An axis that has Russia as its pivot: Moscow supports the strong man from Cyrenaica, just as it supports the coup junta established in Niamey. 

As explained on AgenziaNova by Alessandro Scipione, important contacts have been underway between Haftar and the Nigerian leaders for weeks. A circumstance that led Libyan Prime Minister Ddeibah to send a delegation to Niamey, with the aim of hindering the pro-Russian axis between Benghazi and Niger.

“Niger and Libya share a 324 kilometer stretch of border in the Sahara desert – is Scipione’s comment on InsideOver – representing a strategic point on the Sahel routes. The tribes and ethnic groups present in both countries, such as the Tebu and the Tuareg, have for years been involved in disputes for the control of smuggling routes and human trafficking”. 

The importance assumed by Niger in the eyes of the two main actors involved in the Libyan scene is therefore evident. An importance that could lead Ddeibah and Haftar to compete for Niger. Also because the Russian presence in the country worries the United States and Europe, Italy first and foremost.

“The coup d’état in Niamey last July – concluded the journalist – which brought a military junta supported by Russia to power, has already had significant repercussions on illegal migratory flows in the area. It is significant to note that the government in Niamey has repealed the law that criminalized the smuggling of migrants across the Sahel. It should be underlined that instability is spreading throughout the region.” Another reason to fear a spread of tensions from Libya to sub-Saharan countries.


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