Libyan Conflict – What is the Turkish and Russian Agenda?

  • Russia wants a ceasefire in Libya.
  • Turkey does not want Haftar to take control of Tripoli.
  • France announced a mission to stop weapons under sanctions entering Libya via the Mideteranian Sea.

Russia will host Fayez al-Serraj and Khalifa Haftar in Moscow in an attempt to achieve peace in Libya. According to Russian news, Haftar is already in Russia. Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, who is a Turkish politician and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Turkey since 24 November 2015, is expected to join them. Hakan Fidan is a retired Turkish army sergeant, teacher, diplomat and the head of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization. he is expected to attend as well. Hulusi Akar is the current Turkish Minister of Defense and a former four-star Turkish Armed Forces general who served as the 29th Chief of the General Staff. He will be arriving with al Serraj for the talks. Observers from Egypt and United Arab Emirates will be in attendance. The latest development is that Haftar left without signing any type peace resolution.

Khalifa Haftar.

A cease fire that has been achieved over the weekend, but as of Tuesday it failed. However, if the peace talks are successful, Russia would have been in the forefront of any deal and would fulfill Russian President Vladimir Putin’s agenda to gain further influence in Libya and on the African continent.  Turkey has a stake in the game and the pendulum could swing from them being labeled an aggressor to immediately one of an important peacemaker in the conflict.

The opposing parties of Serraj and Haftar are both perceived as tainted. Serraj barely lives in Libya these days and spends the majority of his time in Western Europe. Haftar is rumored to hold US citizenship and possibly be a better choice for the geopolitical interests of the US in the region. Also the two have divided support, one is supported by Turkey and the other from Egypt. Turkey and Egypt have a laundry list of enemies on both sides.

It is plausible for Libya to stop the war and hold a new election. At this time both Serraj and Haftar are compromised figures. There are talks that Dr. Saif al-Islam Gaddafi is interested in being a new leader of Libya. Gaddafi is a Libyan political figure. He is the second son of the former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and his second wife Safia Farkash. He was a part of his father’s inner circle, performing public relations and diplomatic roles on his behalf.  It could possibly mean Russia could get preferential deals in Libya. The Libyan Arab Jamahiriya under Muammar Gaddafi was a Soviet ally, which in turn provided Arab nations with weaponry and military advisers throughout the 1970s and 1980s.

Currently, Haftar has been successful in gaining control over Sirte, a city in Libya located south of the Gulf of Sirte, between Tripoli and Benghazi. It is famously known for its battles, ethnic groups, and loyalty to Muammar Gaddafi. Haftar is also close to securing positions in Tripoli, the capital and largest city of Libya, with a population of about 2.358 million people in 2018. It is located in the northwest of Libya on the edge of the desert, on a point of rocky land projecting into the Mediterranean Sea and forming a bay. Haftar is close to victory in Libya.

Fayez al-Serraj.

The situation can only be resolved via peace talks, as military operations will only cause an escalation of war. The conflict in Libya has started to attract other players. Clearly, each of the interested parties has its own geopolitical interests. Russia is expecting a similar outcome as in Syria. The Kremlin’s interests are to gain geopolitical control in the African region.

Turkish leader Erdogan wants a cease fire and peace in order to send his own weaponry. Of course, Turkey does buy defense equipment from Russia. Turkey, also wants to make sure Haftar does not take control of Tripoli. Erdogan also needs peace in Syria where he is trying to control Idlib, a city in northwestern Syria that operates as the capital of the Idlib Governorate and stands 59 kilometers southwest of Aleppo. It has an elevation of nearly 500 meters above sea level. The Washington Post claims the Syrian army is urging civilians to leave this last rebel enclave and that Russia is offering three ways out at this time.

It seems Putin and Erdogan have the same agenda and stand to benefit the most from the situation, hence such interest in hosting peace talks in Moscow. Lately, Erdogan has repeatedly mentioned that Russia and Turkey have a lot of important future projects in discussions. Does it mean Turkey is going to leave NATO soon? It would be almost impossible for Turkey to stay with NATO, yet have a close relationship with Putin’s Russia.

Turkey is a loosing party as it stands in the Libyan conflict. The only way it won’t lose is by aligning with Russia to salvage its position. Haftar has a majority of the support now in Libya. Turkey sent some of its mercenaries from Syria to Libya. For Turkey and Russia, Libya is a strategic location for their North African interests. It would also allow control of the Mediterranean sea. At this time, Turkey does not have any more mercenaries to send to Libya.

Dr. Saif al-Islam Gaddafi.

The importance of the Mediterranean Sea is partly due to France claiming further control in the sea to prevent contraband of weapons under sanctions. Tunisia and Algeria already blocked access on their side. Haftar only agreed to the peace talks in Moscow because of Egypt and Russia. Erdogan is using a quasi cease fire to regroup and finance additional mercenaries in Tripoli, hence preventing Haftar from taking control, but the ceasefire was short lived as expected. Erdogan will have no choice but to make concessions in order to align with Russia. The most important one would be to leave the Idlib region in Syria to appease Putin.

A dark horse in this conflict is Italy. Cheap crude from Libya was filled in the Italian tankers. The interest of Italy is clear. Especially, being close to the economic crisis, the sale of crude brings necessary injections into the Italian economy. Italy is possibly on the brink of an early election. The coalition is too weak, but economic interests are still a priority. Therefore, it needs peace in Libya and to try somewhat to align with Turkey and Russia, which in itself could cause potential issues within the European Union.

One of the key parties is France. The announcement of possible control of the Mediterranean to prevent sanctioned weapons from entering Libya caused a certain turmoil for Turkey. On one hand, France was one of the major players in the removal of Muammar Gaddafi. On the other hand, France has an open dialogue with both sides. France unfairly has been collecting colonization fees in Africa to this day and is not liked. That is one of the reasons that the Islamic State was successful in recruiting terrorists and sending them to France to commit horrendous terrorist attacks. Propaganda from the Islamic State says France is contributing to the corruption and poverty on the African continent.

No one is quite clear what the exact interests of Macron are pertaining to the Libyan conflict. France is one of the players that caused difficulties for the Hafter troop advances, almost aligned with Turkey. However, French control of the Mediterranean is going against Turkish interests. Could it be Macron is desperately trying to advance French power within the European Union? Angela Merkel will eventually be leaving and this opens an opportunity for France which has been struggling for decades to gain a leadership position within the EU. Macron has been instrumental in the Normandy talks to find a peaceful solution between Ukraine and Russia.

Germany does not have many interests in Africa. Merkel plans to host an international conference on Libya, but never had any significant financial investments in Libya and has not voiced any specific future interests. Is Merkel trying to outshine Macron in his attempt to gain leadership in the EU?

It is clear Turkey is moving further away from NATO and its interests seem to be with Russia. Turkey almost fits better at this time with Russia, China and the BRICS nation alliance, then it does with the West. The outcome in Libya will be a deciding factor. How close will Turkey align with Russian interests? The future of the geopolitical game is changing in Africa.

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Christina Kitova

I spent most of my professional life in finance, insurance risk management litigation.

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