[WATCH] Unacceptable that Russia supported known 'gangsters and smugglers' against Malta – US Charge d’Affaires

The United States Charges d'Affaires in Malta Mark Schapiro also said that some NGO's operating rescue vessels in Mediterranean needed to ask themselves whether they were unwittingly making the migration problem worse

Schapiro said it was unacceptable for Russia to support 'gangsters and smugglers' against Malta
Schapiro said it was unacceptable for Russia to support 'gangsters and smugglers' against Malta

Russia’s decision to delay sanctions against oil smuggling suspects Darren Debono and Gordon Debono was unacceptable and Malta has every right to be frustrated and disgusted, the United States’ Charge d’Affaires in Malta Mark Schapiro said on Thursday.

Last Sunday, MaltaToday reported that Russia had blocked a Maltese attempt at placing the two on a United Nations sanctions list, however this was blocked by Russia at the last minute.

“These guys are known gangsters and known smugglers. What just happened at the United Nations is that Russia made a decision to side with known gangsters and smugglers against Malta. That’s not ok, that should not be acceptable and Malta has every right to be frustrated and disgusted by this,” he said.

Schapiro was a guest on current affairs programme Xtra Sajf, where he discussed various aspects of the US’ relationship with Malta.

Asked about a recent court decision which block Transport Malta from deregistering ships owned by Darren Debono, Schapiro said that Malta’s decision to present its first ever sanctions designation at the United Nations were an attempt to get around the decision.

“That would have solved these problems because the judge would have been obliged to enforce this, because Malta is a member of the United Nations. It was unfortunate that it didn’t go through.”

He specified that Russia’s actions didn’t constitute a veto, but rather what is called a technical hold. “The Russians came back with more questions. This is a bureaucratic exercise and I think Malta has responded very quickly in Moscow and New York and try to get at this and say, ‘ok what is behind this and how can we give you enough information to get you on board’”

Schapiro acknowledged that bureaucratic measures are often instigated by political intentions but would not speculate on the reason for the move.

He said however that “the world right now is defined by great power competition, especially in the central Mediterranean”.

“Malta should do what is in Malta’s interests to do. We hope that that also means doing the right thing but Malta’s moral and political compass on this issue has been very clear and we are happy to support this.”

READ MORE: Court provisionally upholds injunction preventing Malta from applying for UN sanctions

Too much interference in Libyan affairs

Regarding the present situation in Libya, Schapiro said there was clearly one legitimate government in Libya and that General Khalifa Haftar had “miscalculated” when he believed he was able to seize the whole country.

He stressed that there needed to be a political solution to the conflict, adding that there was too much outside interference in Libyan affairs and that this was having a negative effect.

“Unless the actors on the ground come to believe they have more to gain by doing that and get to a point of conflict fatigue it’s going to be very challenging for that to happen so we want other nations, we want the actors that are supporting both sides of this and feeding the militias to support us on this and support the efforts of the United Nations,” Schapiro said.

NGOs must ask themselves if they are adding to migration problem

On migration, Schapiro said he understood the frustration of the Maltese authorities. He said that since the election of Matteo Salvini as Italy’s Home Affairs Minister, more pressure had been placed on Malta.

“Malta and France have played a very positive role, but the situation would be easier to manage if the countries came together with a unified policy on migration and how to manage this.”

Ultimately, he said, the US wanted to see a stable Malta and would continue to do what it can to prevent Malta from being overwhelmed.

Turning to NGO’s who operate rescue vessels in the Mediterranean, Schapiro warned that their actions might be making the situation worse.

“There is a legitimate question that some of the NGOs need to ask themselves about whether they are adding to this and whether they are creating an incentive and unwittingly assisting these traffickers,” he said, acknowledging however that having people undertake such a dangerous journey in a rubber boat was a human tragedy in itself.