Pubblicato in: Armamenti, Devoluzione socialismo, Geopolitica Africa, Problemi militari, Russia

Russia. Dispiegati cacciabombardieri in Libia. La strategia russa in Africa.

Giuseppe Sandro Mela.

2020-06-03.

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Inizia a delinearsi la strategia di Mr Putin e della Russia per il dominio del Mare Mediterraneo. Dapprima l’intervento militare diretto in Siria, adesso in Libia. Ma il Mediterraneo è solo un elemento di uno scacchiere ben più vasto: l’obiettivo è il dominio dell’Africa.

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«The US has identified over a dozen Russia warplanes in Libya, marking Moscow’s first direct venture into the North African country»

«Experts say it is part of a larger Russian plan to expand its influence in the region»

«US Africa Command (AFRICOM) announced earlier this week that Russia had deployed at least 14 warplanes to Libya in support of private military contractors known as the Wagner Group»

«It was the first time Russian armed forces were identified in the North African country. Although the Wagner Group purportedly enjoys Russian state backing, the Kremlin had initially stopped short of deploying official military assets to Libya, despite Moscow’s support for general-turned-warlord Khalifa Haftar»

«For too long, Russia has denied the full extent of its involvement in the ongoing Libyan conflict»

«neither Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) nor private military contractors could “arm, operate and sustain these fighters without state support — support they are getting from Russia»

«Russia is clearly trying to tip the scales in its favor in Libya …. The UN said Russia’s Wagner group already has up to 1,200 mercenaries in Libya.»

«Haftar’s LNA has sought to oust the UN-backed government Tripoli in favor of a rival Tobruk-based government. He has received support from Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and, at one point, even France. …. But Russia remains Haftar’s most committed ally»

«Strengthening the Russian military position in North Africa will undoubtedly provide Russian President Vladimir Putin with a much tighter grip over Europe and possibly even deep-rooted influence and control in the wider MENA region»

«Libya’s energy resources and the presence of several deep-water ports will give Putin the logistical and geo-strategical advantage he is attempting to achieve»

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Sarebbe impossibile dominare il Mediterraneo senza poter disporre di porti con acque sufficientemente profonde da permetterne l’uso a navi da guerra. Ma gli unici porti ‘acquisibili’ al momento sono quelli della Libia.

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«Russia’s state arms seller Rosoboronexport announced in April the first contract to supply assault boats to a country in sub-Saharan Africa»

«Russia is building its path to gain a foothold in Africa and broaden its export map for arms on the continent»

«Currently, it accounts for 49% of total arms exports to Africa, according to the database of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI)»

«Until now, Algeria remains the biggest recipient of Russian arms in Africa, followed by Egypt, Sudan and Angola …. In the early 2000s, 16 African countries were recipients of Russian arms. Between 2010 and 2019, the figure went up to 21»

«Starting in 2015, Russia started selling arms to oil-rich Angola — mainly fighter aircraft and combat helicopters»

«That same year, Algeria signed another arms deal to buy Russian weapons for $7.5 billion»

«Russia hosted the first-ever Russia-Africa summit in Sochi in 2019 as a way of further identifying cooperation possibilities across the continent. During the summit, Russian President Vladimir Putin stated that “the strengthening of ties with African countries is one of Russia’s foreign policy priorities”»

«This exhibition showed that Russia does not aim to offer disruptive new technologies in arms; instead, it focuses on improving the models that have been demanded the most»

«Russia sees Africa as a key potential partner in the vision for a multipolar world order»

«Less European, less trans-Atlantic and focused more on rising powers and rising regions»

«Despite widespread international condemnation of Mugabe’s regime, Russia stayed on the side of Zimbabwe: together with China, it vetoed the UN’s Security Council resolution for an arms embargo in 2008 and criticized Western sanctions»

«Russia has been scaling up activities in the mining of resources such as coltan, cobalt, gold, and diamonds in several other countries across Africa»

«For example, Algeria alone bought around 200 aircraft items from Russia from 2000 to2019, ranging from transporter helicopters to combat helicopters, bomber and fighter ground aircrafts. Various models of surface-to-air missiles (SAM) that are designed for destroying aircrafts or other missiles have been ordered from Algeria (several orders through 2000-2019), Burkina Faso, Egypt (several orders), Ethiopia, Libya and Morocco. Algeria also ordered tanks (more than 500 items in total), as did Uganda (67 items).»

«Cheap weapons — no questions asked»

«Africa is the continent where Russia can freely push one of the key elements of its exports: weapons. Arms trading accounts for 39% of Russia’s defense industry revenue.»

«Russian arms are good. It is universally recognized. Russian arms are also cheaper. There is no reason why African countries would not want to buy them»

«For example, in 2014, government soldiers in Nigeria were accused of human rights abuses against suspects in the country’s fight against Boko Haram. Afterwards, the US cancelled a shipment of attack helicopters, even though the deal had already been signed. That same year, Nigeria placed an order and received six Mi-35M combat helicopters from Russia»

«from 2009 to 2018, Russia accounted for 31% of Egypt’s imports of major weapons.»

«Russia’s defense industry is secretive; the law does not oblige companies to report on arms exports as such, and usually this information falls under the state’s secrecy laws.»

«China is generally growing as an arms exporter and shows similar patterns as Russia in a way of giving weapons with less political conditions»

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Fornire armi e sistemi di arma è sicuramente una operazione economica, ma i risvolti politici sono evidenti: i paesi che si dotano di armamenti russi alla fine dipendono dalla Russia.

La chiave del successo è di un semplice banalità.

«Russian arms are good»

«Cheap weapons — no questions asked»

«giving weapons with less political conditions»

Il vizietto di voler imporre la propria Weltanschauung come prerequisito ai commerci sta costando all’occidente il domini mondiale.

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Russia expands war presence in Libya.

The US has identified over a dozen Russia warplanes in Libya, marking Moscow’s first direct venture into the North African country. Experts say it is part of a larger Russian plan to expand its influence in the region.

US Africa Command (AFRICOM) announced earlier this week that Russia had deployed at least 14 warplanes to Libya in support of private military contractors known as the Wagner Group.

It was the first time Russian armed forces were identified in the North African country. Although the Wagner Group purportedly enjoys Russian state backing, the Kremlin had initially stopped short of deploying official military assets to Libya, despite Moscow’s support for general-turned-warlord Khalifa Haftar.

“For too long, Russia has denied the full extent of its involvement in the ongoing Libyan conflict,” said US Army General Stephen Townsend, who leads AFRICOM. “We watched as Russia flew fourth-generation jet fighters to Libya — every step of the way.”

The US general noted that neither Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) nor private military contractors could “arm, operate and sustain these fighters without state support — support they are getting from Russia.

“Russia is clearly trying to tip the scales in its favor in Libya,” Townsend said.

The UN said Russia’s Wagner group already has up to 1,200 mercenaries in Libya.

Russia’s man

Haftar’s LNA has sought to oust the UN-backed government Tripoli in favor of a rival Tobruk-based government. He has received support from Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and, at one point, even France.

But Russia remains Haftar’s most committed ally.

Moscow has sought to expand its influence in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region and supported that mission through military escapades. In Syria, Moscow deployed its armed forces to prop up the Assad regime, a move that has ensured its place as a regional stakeholder.

“Strengthening the Russian military position in North Africa will undoubtedly provide Russian President Vladimir Putin with a much tighter grip over Europe and possibly even deep-rooted influence and control in the wider MENA region,” said Tomas Olivier, a counter-terrorism expert and former senior officer in the Dutch government.

“Libya’s energy resources and the presence of several deep-water ports will give Putin the logistical and geo-strategical advantage he is attempting to achieve,” Olivier added.

Risky business

Although the Russian Defense Ministry has yet to comment on the US allegations, Russian lawmaker Andrei Krasov, a member of the Russian parliament’s Defense Committee, dismissed them as “fake.”

With state-supported paramilitary forces on the ground, the Kremlin maintains the ability to deny direct involvement, yet still has strategic assets in place. That plays into its larger hybrid warfare strategy, which serves to undermine rules and responsibilities in the conflicts it engages with.

But deploying warplanes raises the stakes, making it a highly risky move for Russia, according to Theresa Fallon, director and founder of the Brussels-based Center for Russia Europe Asia Studies.

“Moscow’s supply of aircraft reportedly repainted in Syria for plausible deniability, represents a creeping shift from a proxy war to open support for Haftar,” Fallon said. “If Turkey responds by deploying more aircraft, it is likely that this could turn into another endless, Syria-like conflict.”

Although Russian-Turkish ties have thawed in recent years, the countries back opposing parties in Syria and Libya. Earlier this month, the Turkish government threatened to strike Haftar’s forces if they continued to attack diplomatic missions in Tripoli, where the UN-backed government is based.

“Libya is rich in energy sources, migrants can be leveraged in negotiations with Europe and Russian mercenaries are likely to command a lucrative revenue stream,” Fallon said. “This could turn into one more frozen conflict on which Russia thrives.”

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Russian arms exports to Africa: Moscow’s long-term strategy.

Along with natural resources, arms exports are a key component of Russia’s economy. In the last two decades, Moscow has managed to deepen its connection with Africa and became the biggest arms supplier on the continent.

Russia’s state arms seller Rosoboronexport announced in April the first contract to supply assault boats to a country in sub-Saharan Africa. The recipient’s identity is concealed. What is known: It marks the first export contract of Russian-made final naval products to this region in the last 20 years. While this news might not have caught much international attention, this new deal adds up to a pattern: Russia is building its path to gain a foothold in Africa and broaden its export map for arms on the continent.

Once a major supplier during the Soviet era, Russia’s role in Africa waned after the collapse of the USSR. But by 2000, Russia had made inroads again, and within the last two decades Russia has managed to become the biggest arms exporter to Africa. Currently, it accounts for 49% of total arms exports to Africa, according to the database of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). 

Since 2000, Russia’s arms exports to Africa have grown significantly. The increases were mainly due to growth in Russia’s arms exports to Algeria.

Russia’s eye on Africa

Until now, Algeria remains the biggest recipient of Russian arms in Africa, followed by Egypt, Sudan and Angola. According to Alexandra Kuimova, a researcher with SIPRI’s Arms and Military Expenditure Program, the number of African countries buying Russian arms increased over the last two decades. In the early 2000s, 16 African countries were recipients of Russian arms. Between 2010 and 2019, the figure went up to 21.

Starting in 2015, Russia started selling arms to oil-rich Angola — mainly fighter aircraft and combat helicopters. The Angolan government in Luanda has long maintained strong ties with Moscow, dating back to the USSR. In 1996, Russia forgave 70% of Angola’s $5 billion (€4.56 billion) in debt, which was mainly a result of several export credits the USSR had issued Angola for buying Soviet arms and military equipment. In the new millennium, Russia was a predictable choice for Angola to sign new arms deals — and within the last five years, Angola has become the third-biggest African client for Russian arms after Algeria and Egypt. Luanda’s other suppliers are Bulgaria, Belarus, Italy and China, but their shares are small.

The situation was similar with Algeria, the largest importer of Russian arms on the African continent. Soviet-era connections allowed Russia to secure its monopoly on arms deals, and Moscow completely wrote off Algeria’s $5.7 billion in debt in 2006. That same year, Algeria signed another arms deal to buy Russian weapons for $7.5 billion.

“Officials in these countries intrinsically look at Moscow from the Soviet-era links and Moscow has been able to maintain its influence. In some cases, like Algeria, it is done by debt release; sometimes by claiming that it will build repair facilities and manufacturing or maintenance facilities,” says Paul Stronski, a senior fellow in the Carnegie Endowment’s Russia and Eurasia Program.

Russia hosted the first-ever Russia-Africa summit in Sochi in 2019 as a way of further identifying cooperation possibilities across the continent. During the summit, Russian President Vladimir Putin stated that “the strengthening of ties with African countries is one of Russia’s foreign policy priorities”.

Arms deals were at the center of attention at the summit. African delegates were invited to exhibitions of Russian weapons: from subsonic jet trainor Yakovlev Yak-130, the Pantsir missile system, and the Tor-M2KM surface-to-air missile systems to smaller arms including a new Kalashnikov AK-200 series assault rifle. This exhibition showed that Russia does not aim to offer disruptive new technologies in arms; instead, it focuses on improving the models that have been demanded the most. 

Opening new markets in line with geopolitical vision

Russia’s growing interest in Africa is defined by not only economic, but also political and strategic reasons. Russia sees Africa as a key potential partner in the vision for a multipolar world order.

“Less European, less trans-Atlantic and focused more on rising powers and rising regions,” Stronski said. This is where Russia’s ties with countries like Zimbabwe and Sudan have been established, he stressed.

Zimbabwe has been subject to financial sanctions from the West since the early 2000s. The state was reportedly responsible for violence, tortures and killings of the president’s opponents during the era of former President Robert Mugabe. Despite widespread international condemnation of Mugabe’s regime, Russia stayed on the side of Zimbabwe: together with China, it vetoed the UN’s Security Council resolution for an arms embargo in 2008 and criticized Western sanctions. Russia exports a number of both raw and finished materials to Zimbabwe, ranging from wood, wheat and fertilizers to printed materials, railway cars and electronics. Russia, in turn, imports coffee and tobacco from Zimbabwe.

Russian companies are also involved in diamond and gold mining projects in the country. According to Gugu Dube, a researcher at the Transnational Threats and International Crime program in the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) in Pretoria, Russia has been scaling up activities in the mining of resources such as coltan, cobalt, gold, and diamonds in several other countries across Africa. In Zimbabwe, Russian companies are also involved in a joint venture of the Darwendale project — mining and smelting one of the world’s largest deposits of platinum group metal — for which production is planned in 2021.

These include aircrafts, missiles, tanks, air defense systems and artillery. For example, Algeria alone bought around 200 aircraft items from Russia from 2000 to2019, ranging from transporter helicopters to combat helicopters, bomber and fighter ground aircrafts. Various models of surface-to-air missiles (SAM) that are designed for destroying aircrafts or other missiles have been ordered from Algeria (several orders through 2000-2019), Burkina Faso, Egypt (several orders), Ethiopia, Libya and Morocco. Algeria also ordered tanks (more than 500 items in total), as did Uganda (67 items).

Cheap weapons — no questions asked

In Russia’s publicly available strategy documents, such as its foreign policy concept or defense doctrine, African states are defined as belonging to an unstable continent and posing an international threat in light of terrorist groups’ activities, particularly in the North African region. Such documents highlight Russia’s aims to expand interaction with Africa by developing beneficial trade and economic relations and supporting regional conflict and crisis prevention.

This ongoing instability feeds a continuous market for arms — and for Russia, Africa represents a major market without a limit in the form of economic sanctions that came from the West after the annexation of Crimea. Africa is the continent where Russia can freely push one of the key elements of its exports: weapons. Arms trading accounts for 39% of Russia’s defense industry revenue.

“Russian arms are good. It is universally recognized. Russian arms are also cheaper. There is no reason why African countries would not want to buy them,” says Irina Filatova, a history professor at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics and professor emeritus of the University of KwaZulu-Natal, who specializes in Russo-African history and relations.

In comparison to other big players, arms deals with Russia do not demand political or human rights conditions. In some cases, Russia has managed to fill the gap where European or American suppliers stepped out.

For example, in 2014, government soldiers in Nigeria were accused of human rights abuses against suspects in the country’s fight against Boko Haram. Afterwards, the US cancelled a shipment of attack helicopters, even though the deal had already been signed. That same year, Nigeria placed an order and received six Mi-35M combat helicopters from Russia.

Egypt is a similar case. After a military coup in 2013, the US started cutting military aid and arms supplies to the country. This left Russia (together with France, another leading arms exporter) with an open opportunity; the country quickly intensified arms transfers to Egypt. From 2009 to 2018, Russia accounted for 31% of Egypt’s imports of major weapons.

According to Kuimova, arms deals with Russia generally go fast. If a certain country needs weapons right away and Russia has them, Russia will be able to supply. What also plays in its favor is a lack of pressure from local civil society groups to track weapons sales. Russia’s defense industry is secretive; the law does not oblige companies to report on arms exports as such, and usually this information falls under the state’s secrecy laws. A general lack of data and transparency has created a situation where civil society groups for monitoring arms trading simply do not exist.

Competition for Russia? Growing potential of Chinese arms

For now, Russia seems to be secure in its markets for arms in Africa. However, experts see the potential of China to become a bigger player for arms supplies in Africa. Currently, China accounts for 13% of arms exports to the continent.

“China has improved the quality and quantity of what it sells. They also do reverse-engineered Russian weapons. Since 2014, Russia has shared sensitive military technology as a part of its growing ties with China,” Stronski said.

Kuimova adds that today China is able to produce and offer all kinds of arms. “China is generally growing as an arms exporter and shows similar patterns as Russia in a way of giving weapons with less political conditions,” she explained.

Researcher Filatova does not see China as a threat to Russian arms in Africa, however — in her opinion, the main competitors for Russian arms will remain the same: the US and France. She defines China’s interest in Africa as predominantly economic and says that “Russia’s competition in Africa in that regard is already lost” — because economically, Russia is not able to offer what China can. Moscow instead focuses on natural resources exports and locking down arms deals. For arms importers, switching to other suppliers is costly, so the likelihood is high that Russia can ensure new deals with its arms buyers well into the future.