UK, Spain worried about Russian ‘threat’
Russia’s expanding presence on the African continent might pose a “worrying” threat to the southern flank of NATO, Spain’s Defense Minister Margarita Robles and British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace stated at a joint press conference in Madrid on Wednesday.
African nations such as Libya and Mali see increased activities of both the Russian government and the nation’s private security companies like the Wagner Group, the two defense chiefs claimed, adding that such developments are “very clear” and that Moscow could use it as leverage against Europe or NATO.
Robles and Wallace linked Russia’s activities to the rising threat of organized crime and terrorism in the region, saying that, if coupled with growing instability and the risk of hunger in Africa, such developments can pose a serious risk to Europe.
“If [Russia] can use migrant flows as a weapon at one end of Europe, they can certainly use it at the other,” Wallace said. The UK defense secretary was referring to what Europe calls a crisis on the Polish border with Belarus, where thousands of migrants that arrived from third countries, mostly in the Middle East, are trying to cross into the EU.
Western nations previously accused the Belarusian leader, Alexander Lukashenko, of fomenting the crisis by encouraging migrants to take this route to Europe. The Kremlin was also accused of supporting Minsk in this endeavor. Both Russia and Belarus denied they were behind the problem.
Now, the Spanish and UK defense chiefs fear that Moscow might also pose a threat to the military bloc’s security in the south. “NATO cannot remain indifferent in this situation,” Robles said, while Wallace suggested that the alliance’s “strategic concept has to involve the whole of NATO, all the territory it covers through its partnership.”
The British defense secretary also assumed that Russian President Vladimir Putin could “use his navy as a way of intimidating his enemies and that means he will be in other parts including the southern flank.” He also said that NATO should treat the Russian Navy as “more of a threat” than Moscow’s ground forces, which are, according to Wallace, “already exhausted” in Ukraine.
At the same time, Wallace called on Moscow to “do the right thing” and open Ukraine’s Black Sea ports for grain export. “That grain is for everyone, Libya, Yemen, people around the world are relying on that grain to feed themselves,” Wallace said.
Western countries accuse Russia of blockading Ukrainian ports. However, according to Moscow, it is the sanctions the West imposed that are impeding free trade, including the trade in agriculture products.
The meeting between the Spanish and UK defense chiefs took place ahead of a NATO summit in Madrid scheduled for late June. Earlier this month, the Baltic States demanded a massive NATO buildup on the eastern flank. Finland and Sweden have also officially voiced their willingness to join the military alliance.