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  The U.S. and Russia: geopolitical winners of Libyan campaign (1)

Maksym Khylko, Research Fellow at Kyiv National Taras Shevchenko University, PhD in Philosophy and MA in International Relations
2011 11 15

Completion of the main phase of armed struggle in Libya gives the opportunity to make some geopolitical conclusions, among them the conclusion on the U.S. and Russia excellent abilities to get geopolitical benefits even in uncomfortable circumstances.

The U.S. geopolitical achievements

Libyan revolution occurred in not the most comfortable moment for the U.S. being concentrated on domestic policy and busy with searching for the best variant of withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan.

But nevertheless the U.S. succeeded to win important Libyan war with minimal military, financial, political and image losses, and that is most important – without U.S. soldiers loses. Also the U.S. managed to persuade its key European allies to take a fair share of military and financial spending and political risks.

Embracing its European partners' ambitions, U.S. gave France and Britain an opportunity to play first fiddle in diplomatic battle for the UN Security Council formal approval of intervention in the Libyan civil war, and to win this decision for the West. If the Libyan issue was presented in the Security Council by the United States then Russia and China would hardly resist from using their veto right, while France's proposal (which in fact was as well the U.S. proposal) successfully passed. Being overt initiators of Libyan campaign France and Britain therewith bounded themselves to take equal share of war-related military, economic and moral responsibilities.

Abandoning ground intervention, the U.S. achieved three important goals at once: 1) saved soldiers lives, 2) saved significant resources, which ground occupation would require, 3) did not share with Libyan rebels the responsibility for the postwar Libyan future, which is unlikely to be bright.

The U.S. also got another significant geopolitical prize, the value of which may be appreciated only in future: in Libyan campaign traditional Franco-German tandem which lately increasingly drew off the EU from the U.S. towards Russia was replaced by pro-Atlantic Franco-British alliance. This may determine the future of Euro-Atlantic relations, of the EU and the NATO. Until recently France hatched the idea of ​​ousting the NATO from the European security space caring forward its own European initiatives based on Franco-German military cooperation. However after Germany refused to support such important for France Libyan campaign, still sluggish process of the EU own security capacity building will hardly be accelerated.

Limited U.S. participation in Libyan operation also gave European allies the opportunity to estimate objectively their military capacities to carry out even relatively small military campaigns and therewith to assure themselves of strong dependence on the U.S. military support. In these circumstances awareness of the importance of the U.S. and the NATO political and military presence in Europe will rise.

European being busy with efforts to resume a reliable supply of the Libyan oil, gave the U.S. and Russia an opportunity to concentrate on potentially more lucrative resources of the Arctic, which disclose with ice melting and according to average estimates can reach 13% of global undiscovered oil and 30% gas reserves. While European oil campaigns involved in restoration of contracts with Libya, American "ExxonMobil" signed with the Russian state company "Rosneft" an agreement on joint development of hydrocarbons in the Kara Sea.

Of course, the value of the U.S. benefits from the Libyan campaign will be partly balanced with its main strategic competitor Russia benefits. Still given the objectively uncomfortable moment for the U.S., its geopolitical party in the Libya campaign may consider to be victorious.

Russian geopolitical achievements

Being regularly criticized for its tendencies to authoritarianism and having large business contracts with Qaddafi regime, Moscow surely couldn't be happy with Arab Spring events overall as well as Libyan revolution particularly. Still Russia managed to use the situation with minimal geopolitical loses and maximum benefits.

Not exercising its veto in the UN Security Council, Russia avoided a possible criticism for supporting unpopular dictator Qaddafi. And easily predictable Western exceeding the mandate of the Resolution 1973 gave Russia good formal explanation to veto Syrian resolution as well as any other subsequent similar Western initiatives.

The greatest geopolitical prize for Russia is the renovation of its influence in the post-Soviet space and enhancement of positions in the Middle East. Not exercising its veto Russia de facto agreed to a military operation against Qaddafi, probably having forecasted that this war will distract political attention and financial resources of the EU from Eastern Europe, including Ukraine which faces its traditional geopolitical choice: Europe or Russia. Against the background of the EU reorientation to the Mediterranean, Russia got a real chance to modify political and economic systems of post-Soviet states relations into more comfortable for Moscow patterns.

Moscow also got opportunities to strengthen its position in the Middle East: while Russian ally Iran intends to use the Arab Spring to enhance its influence and to stimulate the region pan-Islamic movement, Turkey significantly alienated from its Western allies trying not to lose the opportunity to compete for leadership in re-formatted region. Ankara and Tehran reluctance to Western interference in regional processes increase the chances of Russia to play its own game here.

Uncertainty of North Africa oil supply also increased Russia's role as a reliable energy supplier to Europe, thereby reinforced its political and economic influence. At the time of Libyan campaign Russia launched a gas pipeline "Nord Stream" aimed at making more stable Russian gas supply to Germany.

Oil prices growth increased Russian state budget and provided opportunities for economic populism a few months before the Presidential election. Putin has already promised to the Russians not to raise tariffs for gas and electricity until next summer.

Last but not least, similar positions of Russia, China, India and Brazil on Libyan and Syrian questions demonstrated the strengthening of coordination inside the BRICS, political leader of which Russia seems to be.

Libyan events proved that the U.S. and Russia are still good geopolitical players with long-term foreign policy thinking and strategic forecasting. This helps them to get geopolitical benefits with minimum costs and risks even in uncomfortable circumstances.

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