Russia Blocks Appointment of British UN Envoy to Libya


Russia has blocked the appointment of Britain’s Nicholas Kay as the United Nations (UN) Special Envoy to Libya, two diplomatic sources told Foreign Policy news.

Russia’s move has contributed to diplomatic turmoil ahead of the North African country’s upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections.

The move comes less than a week after the UN’s outgoing Envoy, Slovak diplomat, Ján Kubiš, abruptly resigned from his job following a dispute with UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, over the UN’s handling of pre-election preparations.

It also follows ongoing tensions between Britain and Russia, the latter of which previously blocked the renewal of appointments for several UN sanctions experts.

Russia protested what it sees as the proliferation of British nationals, many of them with dual citizenship, landing influential UN jobs.

Guterres had hoped to move quickly to fill the top UN spot before Libya’s elections, proposing Kay, a former British diplomat who served as the UN Special Representative for Somalia. Diplomats said Guterres is mulling the prospect of appointing Stephanie Williams, a United States (US) diplomat who served as the acting UN Special Representative for Libya and Deputy Head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), on an interim basis, thereby avoiding another contentious vote in the UN Security Council.

Yet some diplomats said such a move is unlikely to succeed, since it would provoke the Russians according to the Foreign Policy. Russia had previously blocked Guterres’ plan to make Williams his official special representative and objected to his contingency plan to extend her mandate as acting chief of mission.

The UN mission was plunged into uncertainty after Kubiš’ sudden resignation, which followed the surprise resignation of his predecessor just over a year earlier. Ghassan Salamé stepped down as UN Special Envoy in March 2020, citing personal health reasons and mounting frustration with how rival regional powers were stifling efforts to bring stability and a democratic transition to the conflict-torn North African country.

Kubiš, who tendered his resignation on November 17th, was appointed to the job in January. In his final November 24th briefing to the UN Security Council, he offered to remain on the job through the country’s election to assure a smooth transition. But in accepting his resignation, the UN Chief decided to terminate Kubiš’ mandate on December 10th, two weeks before the scheduled election.

The constant churn in leadership underscores the UN’s precarious position in Libya ahead of the country’s elections and contributes to a growing sense among Libya watchers that the international body isn’t able to chart a government transition in Libya.