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  • Author: Wolfgang Pusztai
  • Publication Date: 07-2020
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Italian Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI)
  • Abstract: After the massive defeat of the Libyan National Army (LNA) at the hands of Operation Burkan Al-Ghadab (Volcano of Rage) - which supports the internationally recognized Government of Accord (GNA) - the new frontline is just west of Sirte, a city 370 km southeast of Tripoli and 350 km southwest of Benghazi, strategically located at the entrance to Libya’s Oil Crescent. While Turkish combat drones, air defense, artillery, electronic warfare and Special Forces form, together with about 10,000 Syrian mercenaries, the backbone of Operation Volcano, hundreds of mercenaries from the Russian private-military company Wagner fight for the LNA. Much more important, in May some 12 to 16 MiG-29SM/SMT and 4 to 6 Su-24M fighter jets arrived in Libya from Russia via Syria and operate now mainly from the Al Jufra air base (about 230 km south of Sirte). The Egyptian President Al-Sisi announced on June 20 that his country will intervene militarily, if the Sirte - Al Jufra line is crossed by pro-GNA forces. The political opponent of the GNA, the internationally recognized House of Representatives (HoR) has already officially requested Egyptian military support. However, Turkey and Russia are now the two key foreign players on the ground in Libya. Actually, the GNA is fully dependent on Turkish support.
  • Topic: Armed Forces, Conflict, Syrian War, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Proxy War
  • Political Geography: Russia, Eurasia, Turkey, Libya, North Africa, Syria
  • Author: Eleonora Tafuro Ambrosetti, Kateryna Zarembo
  • Publication Date: 03-2019
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Italian Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI)
  • Abstract: The 31 March presidential elections in Ukraine matter to Ukraine, its region and the EU. While the majority of experts deem it impossible to have a winner in the first round and, thus, expect a second one in April[1], the March contest will be a first important step in the crucial process of determining the direction the country will take. Thus, while we should not hold our breath on election day, we should definitely keep a close eye on the contest and its outcome.[2] First of all, these mark the first elections in Ukraine’s history when a “pro-Russia” foreign policy card cannot be played by the political candidates. If in 2013 the Association Agreement with the European Union and the Customs Union with Russia were two rival projects for Ukrainians[3], in 2019 support for the EU is prevailing among the population – 50% of Ukrainians support the country’s integration into the EU, while only 9% are in favour of the Customs Union[4]. Ukraine’s European and Euro-Atlantic course has also been recently voted in to become a part of Ukraine’s constitution. And yet Ukraine’s pro-Western integration course is far from being undisputed. First, support for the EU is very unevenly spread across the country, ranging from over 80% in the western oblasts to some 30% in the Donetsk, Luhansk and Odesa oblasts.[5]Second, while none of the three candidates currently leading the polls – the incumbent president, Petro Poroshenko, the former prime minister and ex-energy tycoon Yulia Tymoshenko, and the comedian and political newcomer Volodymyr Zelensky – questions EU integration on paper, some candidates’ electoral programmes or actions look at odds with this goal. On paper, Tymoshenko supports good relations with Brussels – and, eventually, a possible EU membership – but she criticizes the reforms promoted by the EU and IMF and advocates economic isolationism. Zelensky’s fussy approach is also critical of the IMF while giving lukewarm support to EU integration[6]. As of March 2018, it is Zelenskyi who is leading the race, with some 25% of support[7], while Poroshenko and Tymoshenko keep shifting in and out of second place in various polls. Importantly, some 26% - in fact, the “golden share” of these elections – of those who are going to vote, are still undecided about their choice, which may bring some surprises on the day of the poll. Finally, these elections will likely feature an unusually high turnout in Ukrainian terms – as of March 2019, 83% of Ukrainians declared that they are going to participate in the elections (in the 2014 presidential elections turnout reached 60%).[8] This is likely a sign of increased civic mobilization and the perception of civic responsibility among Ukraine’s citizens, which grew more acute after the Euromaidan and the start of the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, International Affairs, European Union, Geopolitics
  • Political Geography: Russia, Europe, Ukraine, Italy
  • Author: Theo Neethling
  • Publication Date: 11-2019
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Italian Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI)
  • Abstract: In recent years, Russian president Vladimir Putin has increasingly placed a high premium on re-building Russia’s global influence in Africa. During the heyday of the Soviet Union, Russian influence on the continent was significant, especially on an ideological level. The Cold War with the United States made Africa a land of contention, with the two superpowers waging proxy wars by aligning and supporting different African movements, fuelling conflict on the continent by providing political support, money and weapons. However, when the Soviet Union disintegrated, and superpower rivalry ended, Africa lost its strategic role. There is little doubt that, today, much of Moscow’s involvement in Africa relates to Putin’s desire to revive his country’s great-power status. In this context, Africa has become strategic in at least two ways: for the economic benefits stemming from its mineral wealth, and for providing Russia with a market to export weapons and military assistance, often merging these two interests in an arms-for-resources approach.
  • Topic: Energy Policy, Natural Resources, Weapons , Conflict
  • Political Geography: Africa, Russia, Eurasia
  • Author: Maddalena Procopio
  • Publication Date: 11-2019
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Italian Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI)
  • Abstract: As the first-ever Russia-Africa summit made headlines around the world in the past few weeks, the comparison between the Russian and the Chinese approach to Africa was recurrent. It originated in the fact that both China and Russia are not Western countries, both have seemingly ‘returned’ to Africa in the 21st century for economic and political reasons, both advocate a non-interference approach in the internal affairs of other countries and both are perceived as great powers in international relations. This makes them potentially able to shake the status quo and arouses paranoia, especially in the West, about their intentions and the consequences of their actions for Africa and other external actors. However, while there are similarities in China and Russia’s engagements with Africa, many more are the differences.
  • Topic: International Relations, Diplomacy, Soft Power
  • Political Geography: Russia, China, Eurasia, Asia, Africa
  • Author: Luigi Narbone
  • Publication Date: 12-2019
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Italian Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI)
  • Abstract: As 2019 comes to close, Russian mercenaries are allegedly shifting the balance of forces in Libya, helping General Haftar to reignite his efforts to take Tripoli. Only a few weeks ago, Russia’s brokered ceasefire had successfully stopped Turkey’s advances in the Syrian northeast, pushing Kurdish forces away from the Turkish border and allowing the return of Bashar Al Assad’s forces to the region from where they had been absent since the beginning of the conflict. Similarly, in Idlib, Russia’s position will be essential to determine the course of the conflict.
  • Topic: Military Strategy, Power Politics, Geopolitics, Syrian War, Proxy War
  • Political Geography: Russia, Turkey, Middle East, Libya, North Africa, Syria, Idlib
  • Author: Ruslan Mamedov
  • Publication Date: 12-2019
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Italian Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI)
  • Abstract: Despite the existence of global and regional formats for discussing ways to resolve the Libyan conflict, national reconciliation has not been achieved for eight years. This is largely due to the lack of necessary conditions and the existence of conflict at the local, regional and global levels. Russian influence on Libyan events is often exaggerated. Moreover, the media likes to raise this topic, because it allows the various parties to the conflict to divert attention away from the real problems and lack of agreement between the main players fighting for leadership in the Libyan issue. At the same time, the Russian approach assumes rather a tactical nature of interaction with various players on the Libyan settlement.
  • Topic: European Union, Geopolitics, Conflict, Proxy War, Reconciliation
  • Political Geography: Russia, Libya, North Africa
  • Author: Luiza Khlebnikova
  • Publication Date: 12-2019
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Italian Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI)
  • Abstract: The world has been focusing almost exclusively on the events in Syria and Russia’s role in them, ignoring a perennial core regional issue – the unresolved Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In 2019, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip kept protesting and calling upon Israel to end the blockade of their territory and to lift restrictions on the movement of people and goods. The current US policy under the Donald Trump administration, as many prominent American and Russian experts - including Daniel Kurtzer and Vitaly Naumkin - point out, undermines the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians. The hopes of the Palestinian people for their own state keep waning. Mostly, it is a result of the White House’s unilateral moves: the cut of US bilateral assistance programs to Palestinians, as well as contributions to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and the overturn of the US position on Israeli settlements in the West Bank, which are no longer considered illegal. “The deal of the century” promised by Donald Trump since 2016, has not been revealed in its entirety yet, however, its chances of success are extremely low.
  • Topic: Diplomacy, Territorial Disputes, Conflict, Negotiation, Mediation
  • Political Geography: Russia, Middle East, Israel, Palestine, United States of America
  • Author: Vladimir Shubin
  • Publication Date: 11-2019
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Italian Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI)
  • Abstract: On October 23 and 24, the Black Sea town of Sochi, often called the southern capital of Russia, hosted the first-ever Russia-Africa summit. Held under the slogan “For peace, security and development”, the summit was combined with an economic forum and co-chaired by two presidents, Vladimir Putin and Abdel Fattah al-Sisi of Egypt, incumbent chairperson of the African Union. Forty-three heads of African states and the representatives of several African regional integration organizations took part in the summit. The summit led to a political declaration on the main areas of Russian-African cooperation, as well as a significant package of agreements on trade and investment.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Diplomacy, Bilateral Relations, Geopolitics
  • Political Geography: Africa, Russia, Egypt
  • Author: Fabio Rugge
  • Publication Date: 01-2018
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Italian Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI)
  • Abstract: The good old days of cold war disinformatia are gone. Social media are increasingly relevant in shaping the public opinion, but they are just “eco chambers”. Foreign actors with malicious intent can easily exploit this intrinsic feature of social media manipulating online information in order to influence the public opinion. Moreover, cyberspace allows a large degree of anonymity, behind which it is easy to automate propaganda, and cyber attacks may be leveraged to exfiltrate and expose sensitive content or to gain information dominance during military operations, increasing the strategic relevance of the “information space”. Operations in this domain are central in Russia’s security strategic thinking, featuring predominantly in its “New Generation War” military doctrine. But the ongoing militarization of cyberspace risks having dangerous spillovers in the conventional domain. What can we do in order to protect our open democracies while preserving a global, free and resilient Internet? The answer is multi-faceted, in as much as CEIW (cyber-enabled information warfare) is an emerging asymmetric threat that forces us to innovate our security approach in many ways.
  • Topic: Security, Science and Technology, Cybersecurity, Social Media
  • Political Geography: Russia, Global Focus
  • Author: Wolfgang Pusztai
  • Publication Date: 02-2017
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Italian Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI)
  • Abstract: After the 1969 revolution, Libya’s previously close links to the United States quickly deteriorated. At the same time Muammar al-Gaddafi sought closer links to the Soviet Union. The clear majority of the equipment of the “Armed Forces of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya” originated from the Soviets or the Eastern Bloc. Many of the officers of all services were educated at military training facilities of the Soviet Armed Forces. After the break-up of the Soviet Union, Russia remained as one of Libya’s key allies.
  • Topic: International Security
  • Political Geography: Russia, Libya