Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday accused Russia of seeking to “sow chaos, conflict and division” in the Mediterranean region in a bid to advance Moscow’s geopolitical interests to the detriment of the entire region.
In a harshly worded statement, Mr. Pompeo lashed out at Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, claiming Mr. Lavrov had crossed a line recently by publicly asserting the U.S. was playing political games by stalling the appointment of a key United Nations envoy to work on peace talks in Libya.
“It’s unfortunate and unhelpful that Mr. Lavrov again gets the facts wrong and attempts to rewrite history,” said Mr. Pompeo, who blamed the Russians and Chinese for blocking a U.N. Security Council appointment of the envoy.
“If anyone is playing political games and trying to stall progress in regional conflicts, it is Russia,” Mr. Pompeo added in comments coming at a moment of heightened tension in the Mediterranean.
While the region has been an on-again, off-again geopolitical hot spot since before the pyramids were built, it has emerged anew in recent years as a sea of division and instability, with powers including Russia, China, Turkey and Israel all jostling for influence, natural resources and military advantage.
Moscow has been among the most aggressive players, initially in Syria and more recently in North Africa, where Russian mercenary forces have been active for more than a year and the Kremlin is believed to be eyeing a possible military base along the oil-rich shores of Libya.
Mr. Pompeo sharply criticized the Russian campaign in Libya.
“In Libya, Russia supported an assault on the Libyan capital, Tripoli, killing civilians and undermining the U.N.’s efforts to bring peace to the country,” said the secretary of state, who accused Moscow of engaging in nefarious activities across the broader region.
“Russia continues to threaten Mediterranean stability using a variety of techniques to spread disinformation, undermine national sovereignty, and sow chaos, conflict and division within countries throughout the region,” Mr. Pompeo said.
“In Syria, Russia supports the Assad regime whose war against its own people has added to regional instability, led to a protracted humanitarian crisis, and displaced half the population,” he said. “In Greece, we saw Russian diplomats expelled from the country in 2018 for undermining the Prespes agreement and meddling in Greek Orthodox religious affairs. Wealthy Russians — many with connections to the Kremlin — have laundered billions of dollars through the Republic of Cyprus and Malta, distorting their domestic markets and spreading corruption.”
With regard to the U.S. role in Libya, meanwhile, Mr. Pompeo said Mr. Lavrov mischaracterized it in comments at the “MED Dialogue” international conference in early December.
The U.S. goal “remains to bring Libyan parties to a negotiated, inclusive U.N.-facilitated political solution,” Mr. Pompeo said.
“The United States worked with our partners on the U.N. Security Council to strengthen the U.N. system and create a UN Special Envoy position and a complementary U.N. Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) Coordinator in UNSMIL’s 2020 mandate renewal,” he said. “Russia and China were the only UNSC members to abstain on the Security Council resolution renewing UNSMIL’s mandate.”
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