Italy, Libya and migration. (and Russia)

Read few comments.

Questions:

1. As Italy steps up talks with Libya over curbs to Mediterranean migrant flows, see e. g. how do you see this initiative, is it a right one and could it be successful?

2. Interestingly, Malta warned, that Libya’s Khalifa Haftar (with Russian contacts) could start a civil war in Libya, increasing refugee flows to the EU. Do you see it a real danger and what kind of role Russia might play here?

Answers:

Lorenzo NannettiInternational Affairs Analyst

1. Minister Minniti (the one who went to Libya) was one of the parliamentary overseers on Italian intel before the current government. The initiative is not 100% wrong per se but is based on the illusory idea that currently the Libyan government is able to keep its own part of the bargain and, again, forgets about the drivers of migration south. Still, developing both the Libyan economy and Libyan security in order to control flows (meaning: taking them away from the traffickers) will be vital. Problem is, the deal will be hard for Libyan authorities to upkeep and situation in Libya looks far from resolving (see also recent failed coup by Ghweil’s forces).

2. I don’t know if Haftar will make refugee flows increase to Italy, but I think he may try to fight the Misuratan forces and therefore Serraj as soon as he has ended the struggle in benghazi (before that he may do so in the south to avoid an early direct confrontation he may not be ready to face now).

Russia wants to regain a role in the Med, is heavily courting Egypt which needs Russia to help survive the deteriorating relationship with Saudi Arabia. The airbase at Sidi el-Barrani where Egyptian and Russian paratroopers conducted 2 exercises is well known to Italians since the 2nd World War: it was the farthest point the Italian offensive against British Egypt in 1940 got – and it’s very very close to the Libyan border (yes, we didn’t go much far before Rommel’s Afrika Korps arrived…). So with Egypt supporting Haftar in Cyrenaica and Russia interested in building a stronger link with Egypt, supporting Haftar too becomes part of the equation. Still, it’s hard to see a strong deployment given that Russia is already overstretched due to Syria, so likely there may be advisors, maybe weapons and hardware, but I don’t see troops or aircrafts being sent, unless a serious drawback from Syria happens first. There may be some show of force for propaganda, but not much more than that.

One note from Haftar: in the past few years Egypt and UAE heavily lobbied EU and NATO countries to supply weapons and training to Haftar, but they generally were refused. That is why they (and therefore Haftar) have started looking elsewhere.

Gabriele IacovinoResponsabile Analisti, Ce.S.I. – Centro Studi Internazionali

1. The support of Italy toward the Serraj’s government arrives after a standstill period where the UN driven peace process has been totally stuck and other countries involved in the stabilization of Libya missing for different reason. The change of the Administration for US, the Brexit issue for UK and the electoral campaign for France drove the agendas away from Libya. Italy took the initiative for two main reason: first, the main interests for Rome are in Tripolitania, so the support for the government in Tripoli is a vital priority. Moreover, Italy is the only international actor speaking both with Serraj and Haftar. It’s not a coincidence that General Haftar spoke with the main Italian newspaper few days ago sending messages toward Rome and its support both to Misurata and Serraj.

Secondly, Italy is driving the effort to solve the European problem of migrants. In this perspective to settle an agreement with Tripoli is a vital issue because all the main illegal route arrive to the Tripolitanian shores. In this perspective Rome took the lead also at the European level hoping that Brussels would support these efforts

2. Haftar is playing his cards to have a role in Libya. The support from Egypt and UAE is not enough. So he is trying to take advantage of the Russian proactivity in the Mediterranean region to have a new sponsor for his action. Of course this is a big risk for Libya: until now Haftar doesn’t seem to have the will to find an agreement with Tripoli. But no solution will be reached in Libya without an agreement between all the subject toward a federalization of the country.

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