Recent news confirms that the Russian Federation, at its president’s direction, is further escalating the “privatization” of military action in support of its efforts to establish a new  Russian “sphere of influence” – something that its leadership has been talking about for some six years now.  But before discussing that, I need to attribute the “little green planes” reference as a creation of Taylor Rogoway, contributor and editor of The War Zone, one of the best military blogs on the internet.

The term “little green men” first came into play in the Crimea, when Putin deployed his military to seize that Ukrainian territory. He first denied those forces, only to much later admit that they were a combination of regular Russian military and volunteers.  The volunteers went on to help trigger fighting in what became break away segments of Eastern Ukraine – over the years their initial efforts were supported both by deployment of regular Russian combat units and by private Russian military contractors.

I’ve covered that strategy in both Creating Chaos and In Denial and noted Russian involvement in Africa as a significant new Russian activity, significantly improving its economic reach based on the activities of private Russian “security contractors” .

The current escalation of its intervention in Libya involves the deployment of a considerable number of Russian fighter and fighter bomber aircraft to Libya, to support a strong man who is attempting to take over the Libyan government.  Those aircraft will support a considerable number of Russian “contract” military personnel already in combat within Libya.  Details can be found at these links:

Beyond access to Libyan energy, the question arises as to why Russia would involve itself in combat against a legitimate government, especially when it could pit its forces directly against Turkish units which are supporting the legal government.

The answer is simply “sphere of influence”.  Putin has made it clear that he seeks to restore the geopolitical sphere of economic and security influence that the Soviet Union (and the Russian Empire) exercised well beyond current Russian borders – in Eastern Europe, in the Middle East and at times around the Mediterranean.  His strategy of supporting strong men has given Russia key military bases in Syria (used to stage the new aircraft deployment to Libya) and access to airfields in Libya. 

If he is successful in Libya he will be able to project Russian geopolitical influence across the entire Mediterranean, backed by military force – as shown with the shadowing of American surveillance and intelligence collections aircraft.

As I’ve mentioned before, Putin is highly focused and tactically brilliant – his privatization strategy is an example of that and he is simply advancing that step by step.  In turn the American political leadership has turned inwards to the extent that while our military is clearly aware of what Russia is doing. it is receiving little or no strategic support in confronting it.

It is hard not to conclude that “little green men” and “little green jets” are literally taking advantage of a lack of any American counter geopolitical strategy. Whether this is a temporary anomaly or a new “America First” reality remains to be seen.  

…….I thought I should update this; the major press is a few weeks late but its catching up with some coverage of the Libyan situation:

4 responses »

  1. Anonymous says:

    It’s a curious mix of countries backing Hifter but clearly not a good idea to have Russian forces on Europe’s southern flank and positioned to get involved in securing resources in Africa.

    This should provide an opportunity to reset relations with Turkey (we don’t mind being close to other autocrats….) and secure Europe’s SE borders and the Bosporous…but we shall see.

  2. larryjoe2 says:

    The mix is strange but I suspect simply because Libya provides a venue for individual interests. There is sphere of influence competition across the area and that brings in Turkey and Egypt (only Iran is missing) while Russia seeks to replace the U.S. as a strategic partner and tactically just wants more bases around the Med to project its military power and visibly counter NATO. Actually both Syria and Libya provide a very inexpensive means to do that.

    As for an American counter, it may encourage Turkey to a bit of a reset with the U.S. and NATO. But to a large extent that will be our call because other than in military contacts the U.S. has largely taken itself out of the game in Europe, SW Asia and North Africa.

    For the U.S. military the sorts of exercises in the link below are important but I’m not sure if there is any real geopolitical strategy associated with them.

  3. AnthonyM says:

    Interesting article on the Libya situation

    What a complicated web…France going in with those supporting Hifter and Russia pulling their Wagner group back to allow the Turkish backed GNA to advance in west whilst supplying aircraft to Hifter! Begins to sound like Russia is playing a game around managing it’s relations with Turkey as breaking NATO’s SE flank would be a huge strategic success for Russia.
    Whilst the early overtures in 2016-17 between the Trump administration and Putin appeared to hit a brick wall there has been a cumulative series of developments that have worked in Russia’s strategic interest in recent years, taking advantage of the lack of US strategy
    Europe had better wake up and smell the coffee soon.

  4. larryjoe2 says:

    At the highest level I would have to say it all simply represents a move by Russia to insert itself as a power broker, using its deniable mercenary assets and surrogates such as Syrian volunteers flying Russian aircraft. Its all relatively inexpensive. in military assets and certainly in terms of personnel – and it allows Russia to show it can shift balances of power pretty much at will.

    Putin managed to use that tactic in Syria to embed himself with one regime, and gain key bases….at the same time claiming a role in cease fires (whether they work or not long term and regardless of the collateral damage). Its all a matter of image. He acts first, cares little for consequences on the ground and then moves on. He ill likely do the same in Libya, embedding himself as part of any settlement and claiming a role as peace broker.

    Not to be repetitive – although I am – its all about establishing a Russian sphere of political and economic influence, thereby ensuring himself a seat at the table in negotiations. And of course in international dialogs.

    He is doing it by acting first and making everyone respond to his moves….and of course with the US and Europe generally having removed themselves from the board, consumed by internal conflicts, he has the advantage of shaping the contest simply by the use of initiative, making others react to him.

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