17:42 GMT10 July 2020
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    Russia is being urged to play a key role in stabilizing Libya, an article in the Times read. According to the newspaper, Italy is turning to Russia for help is resolving the migrant crisis in Europe stemming from an influx of Libyan refugees.

    "Italy has always had close ties with Russia, and now that we want a peaceful, unified Libya, we will be happy if Russia wants it too," Italian Deputy Foreign Minister Mario Giro was quoted as saying by the Times.

    The article warned that such an initiative is very risky since it could give Moscow a "new foothold in North Africa and control of a migrant flow that Europe is seeking to halt."

    The European Union has been struggling to manage a massive refugee crisis which escalated in 2015 with hundreds of thousands of people form the Middle East and North Africa seeking asylum in the EU member states.

    According to official data, in 2016, 181,000 migrants from North Africa have arrived in Italy, with over 4,500 dead in the Mediterranean Sea on their way to the European coast.

    It is no surprise that Russia is being asked to help normalize the situation in Libya, according to Ivan Konovalov, a military expert and director of the Center of Strategic Environment.

    "Russia is the only country that proved to the world that it knows how to fight terrorism. Russia doesn’t change its posture. This is very important. Russia’s military success in Syria proves this fact. Syria is now on its way to peaceful talks. This is what Russia did. And no one else can do that. There is no one else to ask," Konovalov told Radio Sputnik.

    Last week, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had a conversation with his Italian counterpart Angelino Alfano. Following the talks, Alfano said that he saw interest for cooperation from the Russian side.

    However, according to the article in the Times, Russia’s intention to help curb the migrant flow from Libya stems from its plan to restore influence in the region, rather than from humanitarian motivation.

    Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov in international waters off the coast of Northern Norway on October 17, 2016.
    © REUTERS / Norwegian Royal Airforce/NTB Scanpix
    In recent years, Moscow has been building ties with Libyan National Army commander General Khalifa Haftar controlling the east part of the country.

    After in 2011 Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was toppled and killed the country has been plunged in a deep crisis. The country is currently ruled by two governments, by a nation-wide elected parliament in Tobruk, in eastern Libya, and by the General National Congress in Tripoli. At the same time, some parts of the country are not controlled by the government as they are seized by armed groups, including Daesh.

    Backed by the UN, a government of national accord led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj was established. However, it was not supported by the parliament in Tobruk.

    The Libyan National Army is not under command of the UN-backed government in Tripoli. Gen. Haftar is supported by the Tobruk-based government.

    "The Kremlin has been cultivating a relationship with Haftar," Bloomberg commentator Leonid Bershidsky wrote, pointing to the general's visit to Moscow late last year, and his visit to Russia's Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier in January, "where he held a teleconference with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu" regarding the fight against international terrorism.

    According to Konovalov, now the most important thing for Libya is to defeat terrorists and Gen. Haftar is the man fighting terrorism.

    "Europe turns a blind eye on the situation in Libya, including on the fact that Haftar is fighting terrorism. He is a well-known person, but he is not legitimate enough to win support from Europe. They can’t place their bets on Haftar, as a man who can end the war," Konovalov said.

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    migrant crisis, conflict, European Union, Khalifa Haftar, Italy, Russia, Libya
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