Russia’s growing presence on the African continent could pose a “worrying” threat to NATO’s southern flank, Spanish Defense Secretary Margarita Robles and British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace told a joint news conference in Madrid on Wednesday.
African nations such as Libya and Mali see increased activity for both the Russian government and the country’s private security companies such as the Wagner Group, the two defense chiefs claimed, adding that such a development is “very clear” and that Moscow could use it as leverage against Europe or NATO.
Robles and Wallace linked Russia’s activities to the growing threat of organized crime and terrorism in the region, arguing that if combined with growing instability and the risk of famine in Africa, such a development could 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, says Wallace. Britain’s defense minister was referring to what Europe calls a crisis on the Polish border with Belarus, where thousands of migrants arriving from third countries, mostly in the Middle East, are trying to enter the EU.
Western countries have previously accused Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko of inciting 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 that they were behind the problem.
Now the Spanish and British commanders-in-chief fear that Moscow may also pose a threat to the security of the military bloc in the south. “NATO can not remain indifferent in this situation,” Robles said, while Wallace suggested that the alliance’s “strategic concept must involve the whole of NATO, all the territory it covers through its partnership.”
The British Secretary of Defense also assumed that Russian President Vladimir Putin could “use his navy as a means 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 Wallace said were “already exhausted” in Ukraine.
At the same time, Wallace called on Moscow to “do the right thing” and open Ukraine’s ports on the Black Sea for grain exports. “This grain is for everyone, Libya, Yemen, people around the world rely on grain to support themselves,” Wallace said.
Western countries accuse Russia of blocking Ukrainian ports. But according to Moscow, it is the sanctions imposed by the Western world that hinder free trade, including trade in agricultural products.
The meeting between the Spanish and British defense commanders took place ahead of a NATO summit in Madrid scheduled for the end of June. Earlier this month, the Baltic states demanded a massive NATO build-up on the eastern flank. Finland and Sweden have also officially expressed their willingness to join the military alliance.