A weak, Kremlin-influenced Libya is a threat to NATO and EU security

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

Russia’s pursuit of a naval presence in Libya’s eastern region, likely to culminate into a base for its nuclear submarines, provides Moscow with more than just a strategic outpost looking towards the entire EU, Hafed Al-Ghwell writes.

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With the gaze of much of the world fixed on the wars unfolding in Gaza and Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin continues to expand his country’s reach in Africa.

He is now using Libya as a stepping stone to position Russian submarines in the central Mediterranean and place nuclear weapons on Europe’s southern flank.

Enrico Borghi, a centrist MP and member of the Italian parliament’s intelligence committee, recently warned that Russia’s interest in Tobruk in Libya is no mystery, which could be a preamble for sending its nuclear submarines there, much like the Soviet Union sent its missiles to Cuba in 1962.

It is clear that having submarines a few hundred kilometres from NATO states would not be good for security. 

In light of this, Washington’s move to reopen an embassy in Libya a decade after suspending its operations in the country is significant. 

Not only is a strong Russian presence in Libya, a security threat to NATO and Europe — Libya’s geographic location, linking Niger, Chad and Sudan to North Africa and Europe, makes it of vital strategic importance.

Russian footprints all over

The Russian footprint in Libya has grown substantially, alongside an evolving military presence evidenced by a recent delivery of military supplies to the port of Tobruk. 

This strategic eastern city saw the arrival of armoured vehicles, weapons, and equipment — the fifth such shipment within a brief span, indicative of a systematic build-up. 

The supplies, presumed to have been dispatched from Russia’s naval facility in Tartus, Syria were transported by vessels of its Northern Fleet, reflecting an unyielding commitment to Moscow’s Mediterranean gambit that has survived the impacts of the war in Ukraine.

The shipment and what it entails are not an isolated development but part of a broader Russian pattern to establish a perpetual military presence akin to its nearly decade-long posture in Syria. 

Such an expansion is a direct challenge to NATO’s southern flank. 

The introduction of advanced air defence systems by Russian operators in Libya that threaten Western “over-the-horizon” counter-threat operations across North Africa and the Sahel shifts the regional balance of control in the air, while also threatening freedom of navigation since the delivery of anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) capabilities will negate NATO’s operational reach in its own backyard.

How prepared is the West for Lybia’s further decline?

The entrenchment in Libya also serves as a gateway for deeper inroads into Africa where Moscow is astutely exploiting a partnership void, offering African regimes military and economic collaboration devoid of the conditionalised engagements favoured by Western patrons. 

Furthermore, Russia’s pursuit of a naval presence in Libya’s eastern region, likely to culminate into a base for its nuclear submarines, provides Moscow with more than just a strategic outpost looking towards the entire EU. 

It adds a frustrating layer of complexity to NATO’s security calculus now weighing steady Russian gains in Ukraine, and the long-term impacts of the US pullout from Niger and potentially Chad.

Simply put, Moscow’s playbook in Libya is changing from the usual fusion of military engagement with political influence in Libya, partly facilitated by the alignment with regional strongman Khalifa Haftar. 

By supplanting Western influence, Russia’s opportunism and leveraging of geopolitical fault lines have helped enhance its stature even at the height of a needless war in Ukraine. 

The cascading impact of Moscow’s manoeuvring raises serious questions about the West’s preparedness for the declining prospects of a stable, secure and sovereign Libya.

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This is why Washington’s decision to reestablish a diplomatic presence in Libya is a strategic bid aimed at countering Russia’s growing presence, while simultaneously bolstering the United Nations Support Mission. 

The US is back in town, however

The move comes after a palpable hiatus pointing to recalibrated approaches in Washington’s Libya file to embody a strategic calculus that transcends traditional diplomacy, for a re-engagement that can effectively counteract Russia’s growing inroads into Africa.

It is the clearest reflection yet of the interplay between geopolitical rivalry and the urgency of stabilising a paralysed country on Europe’s southern periphery. 

By re-establishing a physical diplomatic footprint in Libya, the US is taking a rare proactive stance that carries profound implications for Russia’s ascent. The planned facility in Tripoli will facilitate closer monitoring and the ability to challenge Russian narratives and influence on the ground.

Re-introducing US diplomats to Libya is not merely a symbolic act. It will allow for persistent engagement with Libyan actors to maintain key relationships and develop a firm grasp on local dynamics that often elude remote diplomacy. 

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It also represents a tangible commitment to supporting UN-led mediation efforts and laying the groundwork for pivotal elections. A secure and stable Libya is deeply intertwined with broader interests that, when carefully managed, will help immunise the country from a rising tide of instability that could undermine its transition to a post-paralysis era.

The September 2012 attack on the US diplomatic mission in Benghazi cast a shadow over a US return to Libya, stifling any optimism for re-establishing a diplomatic presence.

The memory of the Benghazi attacks also galvanised an evolution in US diplomacy regarding Libya that is predicated on security and sustainability. 

This includes cultivating ongoing on-the-ground engagement with Libyan actors and establishing robust channels for dialogue to address issues before escalations. 

It is a welcome pivot towards pre-empting potential risks, intervening diplomatically to avert crises, and ensuring the Libyan polity is insulated from worsening regional vulnerabilities.

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There’s no time to waste

Libya’s protracted state of fragmentation poses challenges in Brussels’ push to confront migrant surges, as any turmoil between Sub-Saharan Africa and the Maghreb acts as a catalyst for the mass movement of people towards Europe, with implications for security, political cohesion, and safety net systems within the EU. 

Furthermore, the power vacuum in Libya could become a breeding ground for extremism that would be difficult to counteract given the enduring presence of mercenaries and foreign fighters, alongside deeply entrenched local militias across a very complicated security landscape.

To achieve sustainable peace, the US and Europe will have to leverage diplomatic pressure and develop effective strategies to uproot the political economies of Libya’s hybrid actors that are key to their longevity. 

In addition, Western involvement is critical for supporting the UN-brokered political settlement among Libyan actors, by providing an environment conducive to transparent electoral processes and equitable resource distribution. 

Strategic engagement includes recognising Libyan sovereignty and facilitating national reconciliation through initiatives that reflect the “Libyan-owned and Libyan-led” principles, foundational to the UN’s approach and stressed by Libyans themselves.

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Moreover, efforts to establish inclusive national mechanisms for the transparent and equitable management of Libya’s wealth and resources must run parallel with political mediation. 

Failure to do so risks undermining reconciliation efforts and the building of a stable, secure future by addressing long-term economic and political marginalisation, particularly in Libya’s south. 

Therefore, focused efforts on economic integration, accountability, and the rehabilitation of Libya’s tattered social fabric, backed by Western support, will be crucial in restoring stability in Libya.

Hafed Al-Ghwell is the Executive Director of the North Africa Initiative (NAI) and Senior Fellow at the SAIS Foreign Policy Institute (FPI), Johns Hopkins University.

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Footage shows sub-Saharan African migrants being attacked and expelled over 48 hours in Tunisia

During the night of July 3, Tunisians attacked the homes of sub-Saharan migrants in Sfax, the country’s second-largest city. The violence was sparked by the death of a Tunisian, blamed on three sub-Saharan Africans. Footage filmed by the assailants and residents shows the outbreak of violence. The police then picked up many of the migrants and abandoned them in the desert.

Tarak Mahdi, a Tunisian Member of Parliament, live-streamed and published the aftermath of an altercation between a Tunisian man and three others, who he said were sub-Saharan migrants in the city of Sfax. 

“Some Africans stabbed a man this evening,” he said to the camera. He then shows the body of a man lying on the pavement, blood running down the road. A woman comes from the end of the street and cries, “My son!” 

Mahdi explained that the man is in a critical condition, calling on the police to intervene immediately

“The Africans who stabbed him have escaped, so everyone needs to get involved.” 

Screenshot of the video posted live on Facebook by Tarak Mahdi on July 3 at 11:54pm. © Tarak Mahdi

The FRANCE 24 Observers team was able to verify around about a dozen videos filmed and shared online on this shocking night

Another video filmed at the same location shows uniformed National Guard officers and civilians questioning several Black men, who are then loaded into official vehicles. There is another crowd of young men there, some armed with rods. 


Later that evening, police vans were on patrol in Tunisia’s second largest city Sfax, where the incident took place. Videos filmed by local residents show police raids in various parts of the city, with crowds of Tunisians watching on. 

The footage below shows crowds of young men watching the police raid on a road linking the district of Sakiet Ezzit to Sakiet Eddaier (in the northeast of Sfax). Some had even climbed onto the roofs and walls of nearby houses. In the street, several official vans were parked, flashing lights, including one belonging to the special intervention brigade.


The crowd starts singing a verse of the national anthem, and applauds and encourages the gendarmes who maintain a security cordon between the crowd and the migrants being arrested. “There are over 200 people here”, says the person filming the video. 

Another video filmed on the notorious night in the al-Habib district of Sfax shows crowds applauding an arrest operation carried out by Tunisian police in the homes of sub-Saharan migrants.

The person filming exclaims, “Long live Tunisia! Sfax is not a colony. Get out, get out! Go home!” 

The crowd repeats a chant often used by football fans in defiance of the police: “We don’t f*ck with the police, we’re only afraid of God.” The chant their way of supporting those taking justice into their own hands.


‘All the Black people who passed by this area were stopped or beaten up’

On July 4, Guillaume (not his real name), a migrant from a sub-Saharan African country, reached out to the FRANCE 24 Observers team. He lives in Gremda. He lives in Gremda and states that on July 3 homes in his neighbourhood were attacked by groups of Tunisian men. 

He managed to escape and says he’s now in a safe place. He recounted what happened in shaky voice messages.

I can’t even raise my voice where I am talking to you at the moment. I’m very scared, many of my loved ones have been taken away by the National Guard in Sfax. 

On July 3, in Gremda, Tunisians came armed with rods and machetes [Editor’s note: several eyewitness accounts mention the use of knives, though the FRANCE 24 Observers team has been unable to verify this with visual evidence], during the night at the Café des Chinois [known to be a gathering place for sub-Saharans in Sfax]. All the Black people who passed by this area were stopped or beat up. They wounded several people with knives too.


Another of our sub-Saharan Observers in Sfax sent us this video filmed on the night of July 4, 2023. It shows a migrant’s flat being ransacked by a group of Tunisians who throw their belongings to the ground.

We couldn’t film the attack on July 4th because we were too scared. The assailants threw stones at our heads. They broke into our neighbour’s house, smashed her furniture and windows, searched the house and smashed the TV. They also set fire to the house. When the sub-Saharan neighbours called the police, they turned up but took away the sub-Saharan people who were outside, without checking their papers or letting them collect their passports. 

Luckily, I was able to escape into the night, I ran, I passed a car leaving the city and the driver let me in. I still can’t believe I’m alive.


A video filmed on the evening of July 3, 2023 by our Ivorian Observer Samuel (not his real name) in the Ghroubi district of Sfax shows a flat where several migrants were living completely ransacked. He claims that locals armed with knives broke into the flat.

‘They dropped us off in the mountains, then the police and the buses turned back’

An unknown number of sub-Saharan Africans were loaded onto buses. On the morning of July 5, our Observer Alpha (not his real name), from Guinea, sent us messages from “the desert” where he was dropped off. He had travelled all night in a bus accompanied by two other vehicles belonging to the Sfax regional urban transport company SORETRAS, also carrying sub-Saharan Africans.


Our Guinean Observer sent us this video on the morning of July 5 around 8:30am. After having travelled by bus all night, the police left them near the Algerian border. We have not heard from them since that morning.

They put us on a bus at around 10:30pm, then we took the road out of Sfax. At 11:45pm, the bus stopped 10km from the centre of Sfax, and we stopped on the road to pick up even more people. The bus was packed, and a second bus joined the convoy. They checked people in the street, and as soon as they saw a black person they made him get on the bus. They didn’t ask for any papers or residence permits making them get on. 

I said to the policeman before I got on the bus: “We’ve heard that you’re sending us to the Libyan desert or to Algeria”. The policeman told me no, that they were going to send us to a safe place. But this morning we were dropped off on what looks more like the Algerian border. We were dropped off in the mountains, and then the police vehicles and buses turned back. We’re walking towards the border, hoping to run into Algerian border guards or to enter Algerian territory.

Read moreThe growing xenophobic violence against sub-Saharan migrants in Tunisia

‘If you make the mistake of hanging around near the police station, they’ll send you into the desert’

Those who escaped the police are now in hiding at home, like Paul (not his real name), a Cameroonian resident of the Ennasria district in the centre of Sfax.

This morning [July 5], at the post office in Ennasria, in the centre of Sfax, people who had come to withdraw their money via Western Union were taken away: the police came and rounded everyone up.  

But as I live in the city centre, I’m a little relieved: at least here, it’s not as easy for the Tunisian residents to make a lot of noise as in the outlying areas.

You have to stay in your house; outside you can be stopped by the police at any time. If you make the mistake of hanging around near the police station, they’ll send you into the desert.

The police do nothing to look for the attackers, absolutely nothing.


This video filmed by our Observer Paul on the morning of July 4 shows three police vehicles parked outside the post office in Sfax. Uniformed and plainclothes men stop a group of sub-Saharans before making them get into one of the vehicles.

According to the spokesperson for the Sfax justice ministry, 34 migrants were arrested the night of July 3 following altercations with residents in the Gremda district, where the initial murder took place. 

Also, four Tunisians were taken into custody for having given shelter to illegal migrants in Sfax. To date, none of the Tunisians involved in the violence have been arrested or questioned.

Read moreXenophobia grows amidst raids and repeated attacks on sub-Saharan Africans in Tunisia

On July 5, the public prosecutor’s office issued a warrant for the detention of a further 33 illegal sub-Saharan migrants at the Sfax court. 

These raids followed two shocking waves of xenophobic violence and deportations of sub-Saharan migrants. In February 2023, a speech by Tunisian President Kaïs Saïed prompted accusations of racism and xenophobia targeting sub-Saharan Africans in particular.

Read more‘They spit on us’: What’s really going on in the El Ouardia migrant centre in Tunis

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Xenophobia grows amidst raids and repeated attacks on sub-Saharan Africans in Tunisia

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Tunisian law enforcement has launched a wave of repression against the country’s sub-Saharan African population, carrying out random identity checks and sometimes violently arresting them, leaving their children abandoned and offering no access to any kind of legal support. Xenophobic and racist sentiments have also been circulating widely on Tunisian social media, a toxic climate that recent statements by the Tunisian president only exacerbated.

Tunisian police in a number of cities carried out a campaign against the migrant community, arresting and detaining around 300 people from sub-Saharan Africa, including women and children, between February 14 and 16. 

Police in a western suburb of Tunis arrested the staff working at a daycare run by an Ivorian couple… as well as a number of parents who had come to pick up their children on February 16. The adults were brought to the police station, apparently so that authorities could check their papers, according to the Tunis-based media outlet Radio Libre Francophone.

Some of the parents who were arrested managed to get their small children to friends or family. Other children were taken into the care of staff with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. However, many of the children were taken from their parents and placed into a foster centre in a Tunis suburb.





Fuel was added to the fire when Tunisian president Kaïs Saïed said that sub-Saharan migrants were “a source of crime and delinquency” during a meeting with the National Security Council on February 21. 

‘It’s really, really difficult to get a residency permit for Tunisia’

Melvin (not his real name) works with an association in Tunis. He says that it is difficult and costly to get a residency permit in Tunisia. 

No one wants to stay in the country illegally but it is very, very hard to get a residency permit in Tunisia [Editor’s note: because of complex administrative procedures, about 60% of interns and students from sub-Saharan Africa don’t have a valid residency permit].

I know a lot of students who don’t have residency permits, even if they go to expensive private universities that cost more than 3,000 euros a year.

When you arrive in Tunisia, you are allowed to stay in the country for three months. After that, you have to pay 80 dinars [about 24 euros] for each month that you stay beyond that. So many sub-Saharan migrants live in poverty. So how can they pay these fees, not to mention other expenses?

Most of the community expected [the president to make] calming statements but what was said was shocking. We were expecting him to announce mass regularisation for the migrant community, so they could go home [Editor’s note: undocumented migrants who want to leave Tunisia cannot do so without paying fines for overstaying their visas].

And so many migrants accumulate these penalties because they can’t get their residency permit. And so they prefer to try their luck crossing the Mediterranean. 

@birdmansacko ♬ son original – Birdman Sacko

This is a video of a Guinean migrant filmed at the port in Sfax, a city in Eastern Tunisia. The person filming says that he and his friend hope to arrive safe and sound in Italy or in France.

Police arrested about thirty people from sub-Saharan Africa in the northeastern peninsula of Cap Bon on February 20 as part of what the government has claimed is a national security campaign to verify the papers of people from this migrant community, according to radio Mosaïque FM. This wave of repression continued when, on the morning of February 22, 35 people suspected of irregular immigration status were arrested and detained in Kasserine.

Even though Tunisia is often considered as just a transitory stop on the migration route from Africa to Europe, about 21,466 people from sub-Saharan live there, according to the Tunisian National Institute of Statistics. However, many other groups, including NGOs who work with migrants, believe the number is actually much higher. 

‘We don’t have any news about the mothers. Did they go before a judge? Why were they arrested?’

Daoud (not his real name) is originally from sub-Saharan Africa, though we are keeping his name and his country of origin anonymous to protect his identity. He has been living in Sfax, the economic capital of Tunisia, for several years but has friends living in Tunis.

He was terrified when he heard that two of his female friends, who are related and both have small children, went out to get groceries on February 14 and never came back. Afraid, Daoud called another friend living in the same Tunis neighbourhood, only to get no response. 

Considering the sickening situation in Tunis and especially in the neighborhood where they were living, I wanted to make sure they were safe. I contacted dozens of people who might know where [my three friends] were. Finally, I talked to someone on the morning of February 15 who said that they had all been detained. The two women were taken to Raoued and detained there. Same for my friend, who was arrested in a café. 

The two women are both mothers with tiny children. When the mothers were arrested, their daughters, aged just one and two years old, were left at home alone, locked in the apartment where they were all living. It is inhumane to leave children like that.

A family from the Ivory Coast, including two mothers (wearing red), were arrested on February 14 and detained in Raoued, a Tunis suburb. Photo sent by our Observer, “Daoud”

When Daoud realized that the babies were home alone, locked in the flat, he did everything he could to save them, even though he was miles away. Along with assistance from the landlord, a friend managed to break a window and get into the flat.  

We went to the police station to plead for the mothers to be released but the Ariana tribunal said that the two women needed to pay their debts because both of them had irregular status. Finally, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees took over care of the baby girls. 

Right now, we still have no news of the mothers. Did they go before a judge? Why were they arrested?

There have been other cases where parents have had to get a lawyer in order to regain custody of children placed in detention. We’ve also heard of other children being placed in a foster centre without access to their parents. 

A number of Tunisian organisations published a joint statement, denouncing the campaign of abusive arrests as well as comments made by officials that they considered “dangerous and inciting hate towards migrants from sub-Saharan Africa”, as well as the random identity checks and lack of access to legal support. The associations also called on the authorities to release all of the people who had been arrested and put an end to these “systematic arbitrary arrests”. 

In this toxic climate perpetuated by the authorities, many members of the Tunisian public have felt emboldened to intimidate or even assault people from sub-Saharan Africa.  

This woman from sub-Saharan Africa was attacked and left with a bleeding injury to the head on February 14 in a neighbourhood in the town of Sfax. Associations of Ivorians in Tunisia said that she was attacked by the young men you see in this video.
This woman from sub-Saharan Africa was attacked and left with a bleeding injury to the head on February 14 in a neighbourhood in the town of Sfax. Associations of Ivorians in Tunisia said that she was attacked by the young men you see in this video. Screengrab/ Maghreb Ivoire TV

‘When police see someone is from sub-Saharan Africa, then that is enough for them to be arrested in the street or on public transport or even at work’

Daoud continued:

In the neighborhoods where people from sub-Saharan Africa live, there are often groups of young Tunisians who gather outside of the buildings where migrants live. I advised a young woman I know to move for her safety. 

When police see someone is from sub-Saharan Africa, then that is enough for them to be arrested in the street or on public transport or even at work.

In fact, it is almost impossible for people to even leave Tunis without having their papers checked. 

‘I’ve noticed a palpable fear of Black people in Tunisia’

Moreover, the Tunisian Nationalist Party (Parti nationaliste tunisien), which has been in existence since 2018 has been carrying out a campaign to “raise awareness” about what they call the “sub-Saharan invasion” into certain neighbourhoods in Tunis and Sfax. 

These Facebook posts call on Tunisians to refrain from renting to people from sub-Saharan Africa or hiring them. In the comments section, there are lots of xenophobic and racist comments as well as comments from sympathisers to the cause who say they want to help apply this locally.
These Facebook posts call on Tunisians to refrain from renting to people from sub-Saharan Africa or hiring them. In the comments section, there are lots of xenophobic and racist comments as well as comments from sympathisers to the cause who say they want to help apply this locally. Observers

The party also draws from the “great replacement theory“, championed by the extreme right in both Europe and the United States. 

A petition launched by the Tunisian Nationalist Party has collected nearly a thousand signatures. The petition demands the expulsion of undocumented migrants, the repeal of a law related to the fight against racial discrimination, as well as a requirement for all sub-Saharans to have a visa to enter Tunisia.
A petition launched by the Tunisian Nationalist Party has collected nearly a thousand signatures. The petition demands the expulsion of undocumented migrants, the repeal of a law related to the fight against racial discrimination, as well as a requirement for all sub-Saharans to have a visa to enter Tunisia. Tunisian Nationalist Party

Daoud continued: 

This party’s campaign to “raise awareness” has contributed to the hatred towards people from sub-Saharan Africa. Members of the party go to cafés, metro stations or to “louages” [Editor’s note: shared taxis for inter-urban transport] to “raise awareness”, essentially spreading hate about people from sub-Saharan Africa. I understand the country is experiencing a difficult economic period but it isn’t the presence of sub-Saharans in Tunisia that has caused that. 

They have a racist ideology. This is dangerous because political figures like the president indirectly encourage violence, which could lead to actual acts. I’ve noticed a palpable fear of Black people in Tunisia. Even at work, my colleagues refuse to drink the same water as me.

The FRANCE 24 Observers team attempted to reach the spokesperson for the ministry of the interior for a comment but did not get a response. We will update this page if we do. 

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