The European Union is seeking to enforce its arms embargo in Libya with a new naval operation called Irene. However, Moscow has now made it clear that any such mission must be founded on a UN resolution and has said that any other modus operandi would “cause problems.”

At the meeting of the EU foreign ministers on Monday, March 23, the implementation of the UN arms embargo against Libya was discussed. An agreement had not been reached at the meeting of the EU ambassadors the previous Friday.

Russia’s EU Ambassador: ‘We Need UN Mandate’

With its remarks in opposition, Moscow has been fueling renewed debate. Russia’s EU ambassador Chishov is calling for a new UN mandate for the forthcoming new EU naval mission “Irene” to enforce the arms embargo. Chizhov said that if the EU launched a new Mediterranean operation to monitor the arms embargo in Libya following the previous Sophia naval mission, Russia expected to be informed.

At the same time, a new EU operation in the Mediterranean could only start if the UN Security Council had given its prior consent. Anything else would cause problems, Chizkov said.

Libya was now a “divided country,” and the EU was partially responsible for this development; he continued. The most challenging encumbrance was now to reach a political solution, one in which all parties are involved. Not an arms embargo, but only negotiations could solve the crisis in Libya, Chizkov said.

The Continued Failure of Libyan Peace Negotiations

Most recently, peace talks between the Libyan conflict parties in Geneva failed again despite the mediation efforts of the United Nations. In the civil war in Libya, the troops of internationally recognized President Fayez al-Sarraj and the rebels of the Libyan National Army (LNA) led by General Haftar, supported by Russia, are fighting, but also various heavily armed militias. The war escalated around the turn of the year.

Thirteen states, including Russia and the United States, agreed in Berlin in mid-January to do everything possible for a ceasefire and a political solution in Libya. Since then, however, there has never been a real ceasefire or even an armistice as part of this so-called Berlin process. The LNA has been pushing President al-Sarraj, who is also supported by the EU and Turkey, more and more in recent weeks.

Europe Needs Libyan Stability for Trade and Security Reasons

However, stability in the region remains essential for Europeans, as it promotes trade, mutual investment, and security at the EU’s external borders. The status quo, however  which is fueled by illegal arms deliveries from France, Russia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey and Qatar to the various warring parties is leading to an increase in Libyan refugees, but above all refugees from other African countries, who utilize Libya as a transit country to reach Europe.

Reliable agreements between the EU and Libya to curb migration have so far not been possible due to the chaotic situation and the unsettled balance of power in the country. The mandate of the previous Sophia naval mission to monitor the arms embargo expires at the end of March. It also was supported by a UN mandate since June 2016.

When Does the EU Want to Launch Operation Irene?

Now, the EU seeks to start its new mission from April 1, which is to prevent weapons smuggling from the air further east in the Mediterranean that is done using ships. Austria and Hungary, in particular, have insisted that the presence of ships in the Mediterranean cannot result in new illegal migrants being attracted due to the hope of being rescued and brought to Europe.

So far, there have been no flows of migrants in the planned new areas due to rather unfavorable conditions in Libya. However, the situation remains fluid, and due to Austrian and Hungarian initiatives, any new mission will be reviewed after four months, Russia’s disagreement notwithstanding – for the time being.