12.02.2023 Author: Vladimir Platov

What accounts for the sudden surge in Western interest in Libya?

Soon after Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov declared at his annual closing press conference in January that the West had completely forgotten about the Palestinian problem and the Libyan settlement due to its increased support for Kyiv’s criminal regime, the US and EU began to show an unexpected surge of interest in the North African country.

Unfortunately, this Western activity was not motivated by a desire to aid in the resolution of Libya’s internal political situation, where statehood and social infrastructure have been completely destroyed as a result of Western armed intervention. Rather, this activity was a continuation and result of Washington and Brussels’ openly Russophobic policy, which left Europe facing an economic and energy crisis as a result of the US’s unleashed gas war and sanctions against Moscow.

And the fact that without Russian gas Europe will have difficulty replenishing these supplies for next winter, making the situation in the world unpredictable, is recognized not only by European analysts but even by the Japanese (that is, far-away from the EU) publication Nihon Keizai. But the Japanese, Chinese and European media now write not only that the EU does not have enough gas. They also point out the fact that while the US is getting richer, Europe will not be able to pay for expensive American gas for long and it makes Europeans desperately count their remaining money before they are all spent for them by Ursula von der Leyen and Josep Borrell to support the neo-fascists in Kyiv.

And here we have new Russophobic sanctions, prepared by the same Borrell and Von der Leyen by order of Washington, concerning the introduction of the price limit of Russian energy carriers… And these new sanctions, according to opinions of not only European analysts, will result in deficit of energy resources for Europe

Against this background, the West did not miss the fact that the major energy producing countries of North Africa demonstrated sympathy to Russia and its foreign policy despite the pressure and reprimands of Washington and Brussels. In particular, the January 31 phone conversation between Presidents Vladimir Putin of Russia and Abdelmadjid Tebboune of Algeria, in a friendly atmosphere confirmed the readiness to work together on global energy markets, on OPEC + and the Forum of Gas Exporters. And also a call from the Tripoli-based Government of National Unity (GoNU) to the Russian companies Tatneft and Gazprom to return to negotiations on cooperation with the National Oil Corporation of Libya (NOC).

All this caused a noticeable “revival” of Russophobic spiders in the US and the EU jars, trying to somehow cause more annoyance to Moscow, while at the same to reduce the burden of the energy crisis at the expense of North Africa. The same West, repeating its recent blatantly terrorist operation to undermine the Russian gas pipeline “Nord Stream 1 and 2” in the Baltic Sea, with the use of missiles and shells supplied to Kyiv’s neo-Nazi regime and with the direct participation of the Ukrainian armed forces carried out an attempt to shell Novozybkov oil pumping station in the Bryansk region and the Druzhba oil pipeline, which provides oil supplies to the Belarusian refineries and its transit to Europe on January 31.

Meanwhile, not coincidentally, CIA chief William Burns paid a surprise visit to Libya in mid-January, making it perhaps the most important visit to the former Jamahiriya by an American official since Joseph Biden became President of the United States in January 2021. There he met with the chief of the Libyan National Army (LNA), Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, and then with one of Libya’s two prime ministers, Abdel Hamid Dbeibah, foreign minister Najla Mangoush, and general intelligence chief Hussein al-Ayeb. Unsurprisingly, Burns discussed with the Libyans issues related to oil and gas production as well as limiting relations with Russia, including the activities of the Russian PMC Wagner in Libya, according to the American publication Politico. As reported by The Wall Street Journal, this interest of the main American intelligence officer to the Libyan energy resources and the Wagner PMC is not accidental and is largely due to US concerns that the PMC will get access to Libyan oil and gas.

At the same time, the current Italian political elites have urgently stepped up their Russophobic agony, clearly having forgotten how just a couple of years ago, it was Russia that saved millions of Italians from the deadly epidemic of Covid-19, when Washington and Brussels simply abandoned the Italian citizens to their fate. However, having risen under the Russophobic banners of the West, Italy’s current political establishment became increasingly “irritated by the active cooperation of African states with Russia” and decided to maintain its important control over the “gateway to Africa” – Libya, which from 1911 to 1942 was an Italian colony, and before that was part of the Ottoman Empire.

In this regard, Rome decided to place additional emphasis on maintaining the vector of expanding cooperation with North African countries on gas supplies to replace Russian gas. Although Algeria is the key partner of the Italian oil and gas company Eni in Africa, Rome made an additional bet on Libya. There Eni and the local National Oil Corporation (NOC) tried to conclude a contract on offshore production of up to 8.7 billion cubic meters of gas per year. Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni even attended the signing ceremony in Tripoli on January 28. According to the agreement signed by the parties, gas production in the Mediterranean Sea was to start in 2026.

However, according to media reports, the Libyan Oil Ministry rejected this gas deal with Eni because it violates national legislation. Along with this, the Supreme Council of Libyan tribes also threatened to close oil fields, ports and gas pipelines to Italy in protest against the signing of the agreement with the Italian company Eni by the Government of National Unity. The deputy head of the Supreme Council pointed out that Libyan tribes in the east intend to greatly aggravate the situation, and the closure of the Mellitah oil and gas complex, the main point of the gas pipeline linking Libya and Italy, is the first step.

Libya’s cancellation of the gas agreement with Italy was not the only one. As CNN’s Greek version reported in mid-January, a court in Libya also suspended a joint natural resources development agreement with Turkey, signed last year that included the possibility of oil and gas production in waters Ankara and Tripoli had declared their own, but which are also claimed by Egypt and Greece.

Meanwhile, in Libya, the political crisis continues, with two governments. However, the election of a single authority in the country is hindered by problems with the formation of a new parliament, whose election date has not yet been set…

Vladimir Platov, expert on the Middle East, exclusively for the online journal “New Eastern Outlook.