DUBAI — Russian and United Arab Emirates officials discussed the compounding issues in Libya and the enhancement of their military and intelligence ties during a visit to the UAE by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
The two officials agreed to "continue close and confidential political ties and contact between our intelligence agencies on security issues," Lavrov said at the joint news conference with his Emirati counterpart Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed in Abu Dhabi on Feb 2.
"We also took note of the dynamic and efficient work of the Intergovernmental Commission for Military and Technical Cooperation," he said.
According to Theodore Karasik, senior advisor to Washington-based Gulf States Analytics, the intelligence cooperation between the two countries is part of a quadruple arrangement between Russia, UAE, Jordan and Egypt.
"The data sharing is an important part of the fight against Daesh across the region," Karasik said, using an alternative name for the Islamic State group.
Lavrov stressed that substantive discussions on security issues were a high priority during the dialogue describing the situation in the Middle East and North Africa — areas that remain extremely tense as a result of the unprecedented rise in terrorism.
"Special attention during the Abu Dhabi talks was given to strengthening our fight against this evil through bilateral channels and in the framework of various international coalitions that are coalescing in the face of the threat posed by ISIS, Jabhat al Nusra and other terrorist groups," Lavrov said.
Lavrov said that "other forms of our dialogue" have also been developed on regional issues, specifically Libya, Yemen, Iraq and Afghanistan.
"All of them are a target for terrorists looking to expand their influence. All of these countries, like Syria, are in need of urgent action to strengthen national accord to promote national unity and the responsibility of all political forces for the fate of their respective countries," Lavrov said.
Karasik said there appears to be movement toward coordinating a Libyan-led attack on ISIS in Libya with the UN-mandated Libyan government failing to coalesce, and with Libyan National Army General Khalifah Haftar's recent visit to Cairo.
"Russia and the UAE may see the West dillydallying on attack plans since they want the UN-mandated government to be installed in Tripoli, which is not happening. Currently, this UN government is stuck in Tunis. Russia and the UAE do not want to see ISIS in Libya expand anymore than the group already has in and around Sirt and beyond," Karasik said.
For at least a year, these four countries, to varying degrees, are focusing more and more on Libya, he added.
"We know Russian weapons are going to Haftar, and Haftar himself has traveled widely, including Moscow. The UAE, along with it allies in this mini-alliance, seeks to pummel Daesh. All parties agree that time is slipping away before ISIS in Libya is out of control, destabilizing the Sahel and southern Europe," he said.
Italy on the other hand is particularly concerned by the disintegration of Libya, Karasik said.
"These key Arab states and Russia seek to stop Daesh's expansion through a combination of airstrikes and ground action. The issue of now is ever important because the caliphate is transferring personnel to Libya to launch further their North African campaign," he said.
On that note, Lavrov announced there would be at the end of February a meeting of Russian and Arab League foreign ministers in Moscow, and in the spring a meeting between Russia and the Gulf Cooperation Council.
"I believe that the issue of regional security, including in the Persian Gulf and in the broader context, in the Middle East, will be a central issue, while Russia’s ties with the Gulf countries and the Arab world as a whole will contribute to the search for collective responses to the serious challenges that the region is facing," Lavrov said.