Alp Sevimlisoy Yatırım

Ominous Russian Military Moves Spark Fears Over NATO’s Southern Flank

Russia is diverting more resources to its newest Mediterranean hub as Moscow seeks to grow its influence and outcompete Western rivals in conflict-ravaged parts of North and West Africa, reports say.

The independent Russian site Verstka, the All Eyes on Wagner project and the U.S.-funded media outlet Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty have reported that at least 1,800 Russian soldiers and mercenaries have been deployed to Libya in recent weeks, seemingly expanding a project years in the making.

The burgeoning Russian outpost could prove a threat to “Europe’s soft underbelly,” which is already proving vulnerable to persistent migration flows. Moscow’s influence might be sharpened if it can secure the use permanent naval facilities along the Libyan coastline. The Kremlin is reportedly eyeing the port of Tobruk, which is already serving as an important hub for its power projection across Africa.

“The Mediterranean is the most crucial frontier in the defense of ‘Atlanticism,’” Alp Sevimlisoy—a millennium fellow at the Atlantic Council and regional geopolitical analyst—told Newsweek, referring to the ideology that sits at the heart of NATO’s North American-European collaboration.

“Russia, regardless of its intent to set up this port or whether it’s actually going to have the operational capability to do so, is putting more and more resources into Libya,” he continued.

Moscow has been building influence in Libya since the NATO-facilitated overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, after which the country split into several warring factions. The North African nation of about 7 million people is now largely split between the Government of National Stability led by Osama Hamada in the east and the United Nations–backed Government of National Unity led by Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh in the west.

The former is supported by the Libyan National Army—headed by Khalifa Haftar, who effectively holds sway over all of eastern Libya. Recent years have seen Haftar draw closer to the Kremlin, with the 80-year-old visiting Moscow for the first time in 2023 to meet with President Vladimir Putin.

The Wagner Group—now in the process of being brought entirely under Kremlin control following former leader Yevgeny Prigozhin’s abortive coup—has been active in Libya in support of Haftar’s forces since 2019. Under a new leader, Russian intelligence veteran Andrey Averyanov, Wagner—now renamed the Africa Corps—has been increasing its activity in Libya.

“That uptick in the official engagements with Haftar has been very notable,” said Tim Eaton, a senior research fellow in the Middle East and North Africa program at the British think tank Chatham House.

He told Newsweek, “And I think what people who follow the issues around Wagner—and now Africa Corps—seem to be hypothesizing is that what was a more mercenary-based payment arrangement for Russian support is becoming more institutionalized and more formalized engagement between the eastern Libyan forces under Haftar and the Russian government.”

Libya offers Moscow both a foothold in the Mediterranean and a way into what is sometimes called the “Coup Belt” of unstable Sahel nations, where recent political turmoil has seen governments turn to Russia in a bid to eject French and American influence.

“It’s what Libya gives them in terms of potential access to other areas of Africa, and particularly in the Sahel,” Eaton said. “Libya seems to provide a land bridge for those interests.”

The Mediterranean Front
Russia’s war on Ukraine has colored Moscow’s contest with the U.S. worldwide. In the Mediterranean and North Africa, Libya appears to represent a weak spot for the Western allies.

“It’s clear that the Americans fear the establishment of a Russian base on the Mediterranean,” Eaton said. “Of course, there’s already significant Russian presence in Syria. Indeed, the most recent influx of arms has come via Syria.”

Sevimlisoy suggested that NATO should quickly meet the evolving challenge with decisive action. “We need to urgently move toward creating a MEDCOM, which would be a stand-alone NATO military command that would govern the Mediterranean for all intents and purposes,” he said.

He added, “We have to start putting boots on the ground, and we have to make it a NATO effort.” Sevimlisoy also proposed an expansion of nuclear weapon sharing in the Mediterranean region beyond Italy and Turkey, who host such arms, and farther afield.

“If you want to counter Russia in the Mediterranean, you do so by countering them in the Mediterranean but also countering them in the Baltics so that they’re already kept busy on that front,” Sevimlisoy said.

A nuclear expansion, he continued, could include the deployment of U.S. Ohio-class submarines to the Mediterranean—as the U.S. did temporarily after Hamas’ October 7 attack against Israel—and even a rollout of hypersonic technology, once available.

“Eventually, we’ll be able to place tactical nuclear strength onto hypersonic missiles, and at that point, we will have revived a level of nuclear deterrence unseen since the onset of the Cold War,” Sevimlisoy said.

NATO, he added, should also consider new “stay behind” organizations across Europe akin to those put in place during the Cold War in case of a Soviet advance.

Sevimlisoy framed a more muscular NATO presence in the Mediterranean as necessary to deter not only Moscow but also Beijing.

“A couple of years ago, we had Chinese warships passing through the Mediterranean,” he said. “Today, they’re passing through. Tomorrow, these are direct conflict lines.”


Alp Sevimlisoy originally featured as per: Newsweek