Russia’s expanding influence and activity in Africa pose a “worrying” threat to the security of NATO countries along with its invasion of Ukraine and must be addressed by the military alliance, the Spanish and British defence ministers have said.
At a joint news conference on Wednesday in Madrid, Spain’s Margarita Robles said the expansion of operations by the Russian state and Russian private security companies such as the Wagner Group in countries like Mali and Libya was “very clear” and accused them of fomenting organised crime and terrorism.
“NATO cannot remain indifferent in this situation,” she added.
The United Kingdom’s Ben Wallace, in Madrid for a bilateral meeting before Spain hosts a crunch NATO summit in late June, said rising instability coupled with hunger in Africa could significantly affect Europe.
“If [Russia] can use migrant flows as a weapon at one end of Europe, they can certainly use it at the other,” he said.
He was referring to allegations by Western governments that in last year’s European Union border crisis, Russia supported ally Belarus in encouraging thousands of migrants fleeing war in other parts of the world to cross towards Poland in retaliation for EU sanctions.
Wallace echoed Robles’s call for NATO to include defence of its southern flank in its new strategic concept, its basic military doctrine which will be drafted at the Madrid summit.
“NATO’s strategic concept has to involve the whole of NATO, all the territory it covers through its partnership,” he said.
“Russia’s army is already exhausted, broken, we see it bringing equipment out of retirement. The Russian navy will be more of a threat, Vladimir Putin will use his navy as a way of intimidating his enemies and that means he will be in other parts including the southern flank,” he added.
Wallace also called on Russia to let Ukraine export its grain to help countries where grain scarcity could trigger hunger.
Russia must “do the right thing”, Wallace said, and open a grain corridor from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports.
On Thursday, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Rudenko said the country was ready to provide a humanitarian corridor for vessels carrying food to leave Ukraine, in return for the lifting of some sanctions, the Interfax news agency reported.
Wallace rejected the idea of lifting sanctions, and welcomed the suggestion of Black Sea nations, such as Turkey, escorting the Ukraine grain shipments after Moscow ruled out the involvement of Western forces.
“That grain is for everyone, Libya, Yemen, people around the world are relying on that grain to feed themselves,” Wallace said. “I call on Russia to do the right thing in the spirit of humanity and let the grain of Ukraine out, stop stealing the grain for its own means. Let’s not talk about sanctions, let’s do the right thing.”
Ukraine’s Black Sea ports have been blocked since Russia sent thousands of troops into Ukraine on February 24 and more than 20 million tonnes of grain are stuck in silos in the country.
Before the invasion, Ukraine was seen as the world’s breadbasket, exporting 4.5 million tonnes of agricultural produce per month through its ports – 12 percent of the planet’s wheat, 15 percent of its corn and half of its sunflower oil.