Russia’s only Mediterranean deep water port has remained Tartus on the Syrian coast, going back to Soviet times.
But that may change as Moscow is reportedly eyeing expanding to establishing a second military port in the Mediterranean, off Libya. The Wall Street Journal in a Friday report calls Libya the “North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s backyard” — in a quote which Moscow officials would take serious exception to.
The North African Arabic speaking country has for years been in a state of chaos as multiple governments have vied for control in the wake of the 2011 US-NATO military intervention and overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi.
While the US and much of the UN have supported and officially recognized the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) which holds the Western half of the country, Russia has maintained a tighter relationship with Libyan warlord Khalifa Haftar, commander of the the Tobruk-based Libyan National Army (LNA).
The GNA and LNA have been locked in a state of internecine warfare, vying for total control of the war-torn country and its oil wealth, for much of the past decade. The WSJ says that Moscow hopes to use this closeness to Haftar to one day establish a military presence on the Libyan coast.
“Senior Russian officials, including Deputy Defense Minister Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, met with Libyan warlord Khalifa Haftar in recent weeks to discuss long-term docking rights in areas he controls in the war-torn country’s east, according to Libyan officials and advisers,” the report quotes them as saying.
“The Russians have requested access to the ports of either Benghazi or Tobruk, the Libyan officials and advisers said, both of which are located less than 400 miles from Greece and Italy.” Again, these are regions of the eastern half of the country under the control of Haftar and his LNA, and reportedly Wagner Group has been advising these same forces.
This comes against the backdrop of a broader contest for influence in Africa, amid ongoing destabilization especially in central Africa, in Niger and the recent coup events there. Russia and its regional allies say terrorism was proliferated in northern and central Africa due to NATO’s attack on Libya in 2011, while Washington has said Wagner Group as well as the Chinese have been bad news for the continent.
While Russia was seen as generally opposing the NATO war against Gaddafi, under then President Dmitry Medvedev, Moscow did not veto UN resolution 1973 which approved a ‘No Fly Zone’ over Libya, but only abstained – allowing the UNSC to greenlight NATO’s bombing campaign.
In recent days, unprecedented flooding in Libya has overwhelmed towns, cities, and villages – resulting in the deaths of over 11,000 people. The fact that infrastructure and civic services have remained derelict and neglected in the wake of the 2011 NATO intervention has without doubt made the catastrophe worse, and rescue efforts more difficult.