After a recent meeting between Emmanuel Macron and Kamala Harris, Paris seems interested in resuming expansionist policies in North Africa.
Written by Lucas Leiroz, research fellow in international law at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.
Tensions between Russia and France may increase in the coming days due to impolite words by Emmanuel Macron. The French president, during a recent speech, called on Moscow and Ankara to immediately withdraw their forces from the Libyan territory. Using an extremely aggressive and anti-diplomatic rhetoric, Macron accused Russian and Turkish private agents in North Africa to be “mercenaries”, which is something extremely serious and dangerous. More than revealing a possible growth in French interest in that region, Macron’s statement may be related to the outcome of his recent meeting with Kamala Harris, when the beginning of a “new era” in relations between the US and France was announced.
Last Friday, during the press conference after the Paris Summit on Libya, Macron said that Russia and Turkey must withdraw their “mercenaries” as soon as possible. The French president said that the North African country is already showing positive signs of stabilization, praising the importance of the next democratic elections, scheduled for December 24th. However, according to him, the withdrawal of Russian and Turkish citizens from the country is a fundamental step to be taken in the search for this political stabilization.
The president also emphasized that some mobilizations had already started in order to move foreign forces out of the country and applauded a recent report that said about 300 soldiers would leave Libya in the coming weeks.
These were some of Macron’s words during the conference: “The mercenary retreat plan must be implemented. Russia and Turkey must withdraw their mercenaries without delay (…) In fact, a first step was taken with the announcement yesterday by the Military Commission of the departure of 300 mercenaries in the coming weeks”.
This is not the first time Macron has presented speeches with this type of rhetoric against the presence of Russians and Turks in Libya. The elimination of foreign forces in the North African country is a central point for Paris to continue exercising its historic role of power and influence in Africa. However, in recent months, with the progressive rise in the activity of terrorist groups on the African continent and after the strong blows suffered by French forces in the Sahel, it was possible to notice a decrease in French interest in Africa, with Paris turning its attention to the consolidation of its leading role within the European bloc and declining its military expansionism in other continents. Now, apparently, this scenario will change once again.
Libya remains a very important point within the North African space and controlling the country’s political situation is a very relevant factor for the French plans. The creation of a new governmental union early this year and the scheduling of national elections for December have been very positive news for Paris, which hopes, with this, to form a stable ally government in the African country, ensuring the consolidation of a zone of influence for France beyond the European space. In fact, regaining positions in Libya seems more viable for the French at the present time than assuming a position of military prominence in other parts of the continent – as was common in the past – given the constant proliferation of terrorist forces.
Curious, however, is the hostility with which Macron has treated Russia, calling for an immediate withdrawal from Libya and classifying as “mercenaries” the Russian citizens currently operating in Libya. This kind of offensive rhetoric is common in French speeches concerning Turkey, considering that tensions between Paris and Ankara have intensified year after year, given the open support provided by the French to anti-Turkish forces in the Mediterranean. But as far as Russia is concerned, although there have been similar comments lately, we can clearly see the beginning of an escalation of tensions.
To call the Russians fighting in Libya “mercenaries” is a serious accusation on the part of Macron. Russian citizens in Libya are not mercenaries, but private agents. Most of them belong to private security companies and not the Russian armed forces. However, these private forces have nothing to do with mercenaryism, since they are just companies specializing in the security field and that in recent years have actively collaborated in services in which Moscow has no interest in involving its official military. While “mercenaries” and private agents share the same practice of fighting wars in exchange for monetary payments, it is customary to call a “mercenary” someone who performs such acts clandestinely and unconcerned with the material situation of the regions where they operate, which is not such is the case with the Russian private agents, who act in accordance with the law and in collaboration with Moscow officials.
Even though Macron personally considers private agents and mercenaries as being the same thing, the French president’s attitude was, at least, impolite, with a poor choice of words for a speech in front of the world press. In practice, what Macron meant by using such words was simply to offend, creating more friction and tension than currently exists. This will certainly damage the dialogue with Russia for peace solutions even more. At the same conference, at another time, Macron emphasized the narrative that Belarus is the only one responsible for the current migration crisis and severely criticized the Lukashenko government and its links with Russia. With this, it was possible to clearly see the antipathy towards Russia that Macron had as a central objective in his speech.
Interestingly, Macron’s offenses came shortly after his encounter with Kamala Harris. Along with the US Vice President, Macron announced that both were starting a new era in US-France relations, promising a future of greater bilateral cooperation. At their meeting, both also tried to ease the tensions that had recently arisen with the creation of the AUKUS and vowed to tighten their bonds of trust.
So, in the current scenario, it seems that France is interested in forming a new government in Libya, which will serve as an instrument for its expansionism in Africa. In the same sense, for the US, French dominance in the region is positive as it undermines the growth of the Russian presence, which leads to a common agreement between Macron and Biden. This explains Macron’s anti-diplomatic attitudes towards Russia.
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