Russia, Turkey, and Libya – What is their Strategy?

  • Erdogan trying to appease Russia by purchasing S-400 systems.
  • Turkey can't afford to fight on 3 fronts at the same time.
  • The next election in Turkey is scheduled for 2023.

On Sunday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu flew to Turkey, and are holding meetings pertaining the situation in Libya. Since the overthrow and killing of the Libyan leader, Muammar al-Gaddafi, in 2011, Libya became a divided state.

Sergey Lavrov is a Russian diplomat and politician. In office since 2004, he is the Foreign Minister of Russia. Previously, he was the Russian Representative to the UN, serving in the role from 1994 to 2004.

Turkey and Russia are on opposite sides of the Libyan conflict. However, Turkey is not strong enough to go against Russia, if there was an escalation of the military conflict. There are also reports of Russia recruiting mercenaries from Russia and Syria under the Wagner Group.

In recent years, Turkey intensified its own geopolitical interests.. Nevertheless, not everyone in Turkey supports the geopolitical agenda of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. A RAND Corporation report, published in February of this year, states that Turkish officers are disappointed with the Turkish military upper brass. They are concerned with loosing their rank and dissatisfied with the overall situation within Turkey.

It is plausible to believe, if Erdogan continues to be a nuisance to Putin’s agenda, that Russia can start covert action to have Erdogan  removed from power. To note, Erdogan did not get success in Syria, and created another humanitarian crisis within certain areas of Syria.

In addition to participation in the events in Libya, Turkey is also having its problems with disputes over the development of oil and gas fields in the Aegean Sea and the Eastern Mediterranean, as well as the growing conflicts with Greece, on a wide range of issues that needed to be addressed. The Libyan situation was escalated by Erdogan.

At the same time, Europe and the majority of the world were trying to combat the Coronavirus pandemic, and busy with national safety issues. Currently, there are over 7.9 million infected and over 432,000 deaths around the globe. The impact on almost every nation’s economic situation has been tremendous.

Therefore, foreign policy and geopolitical interests took a back seat. Many countries had their borders closed as well.

The fact is that under any circumstances, the game is being played on too many fronts for Turkey to sustain without the readiness of the country’s economy and political system. The currency system is unstable, and the banking system is failing. The industry is subject to crisis phenomena, and the resource base is rather narrow. Additionally, Turkey can’t sustain myriad of military actions.

Turkey’s acquisition of its own resource base, and playing on gas pipeline systems, can really allow Turkey to enter into long-term economic development prospects, as well as ensure greater activity in promoting its position anywhere. However, no one is going to allow the Turks to actively promote this project. A majority of the leading players have moved to the forefront of the fight against Turkish expansion.

By and large, it would be interesting for Greece to participate in the development of gas fields on the shelf of Cyprus, and to conduct an Israeli gas pipeline to Europe through its territory. This would give both economic and political bonuses. Turkish participation in gas production from Cyprus almost completely undermines Greek aspirations.

First, Turkey will not allow the appearance of Greek capital in the consortium for gas production. Secondly, it will do everything possible to sabotage the construction of the Israeli gas pipeline through Greece. Gas projects require financing, including credit, and to attract foreign partners.

Now for Turkey, the self-proclaimed “Republic of Northern Cyprus” is ready to take it up. Perhaps Qatar will be ready to join, whilst creating tensions of the other major players in the Middle East. This again means that the situation around the gas project will be in a state of dynamic balancing for a few more years.

At the same time, in Syria, the Turks are trying to organize an alternative to the official Damascus socio-economic process. They have introduced the Turkish Lira as a means of payment in their area of presence. They are trying to organize civil services that provide basic social functions. At least they are trying to organize economic processes.

Syria, weakened by the war so far, can not oppose anything to this. Russia, while helping to restore major industrial centers, do not want to deal with these issues. Instead, Russia are limiting themselves only to the delivery of humanitarian aid through the Ministry of Defense.

The situation in Libya is dire. Erdogan has expressed a complete disregard for Turkish losses. The presence of Syrian fighters  allowed Turkey not only to eliminate the threat of losing Tripoli, but to launch a counteroffensive.

This forced Egypt to move troops to the border, in order to prevent the fall of the resistance stronghold of Tripoli in Benghazi. More active participation in the events of Russia or the countries of the Arabian Peninsula could correct the situation.

One of the most reprehensible acts was the conversion of the Hagia Sophia, an Orthodox Church, into a mosque and then a museum. Yet, no one is condemning such an act. if it happened in the US, and someone converted a mosque, there would be protests of every kind. Instead, Turkey continues being a NATO member. The domestic political aspect of such a step is a kind of symbolic victory for Erdogan, with his concept of restoring a moderate Islamic order.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu.

In the domestic agenda of Turkey, he has neither the strength nor the ability to do better for Turks. The next election is scheduled for 2023. It is plausible that the election would be held earlier, or there could be the removal of Erdogan.

Russia, and many nations in the Eastern European bloc, are Orthodox. Putin and the Russian Orthodox Church are united. Therefore, it is highly likely Putin will not take it lightly, or even agree with Turkey. Besides being a member of NATO, Russia can completely destroy Turkey.

That is why Erdogan has been purchasing S-400 systems from Russia. Erdogan is trying hard to show that his actions are not a threat to Russia and its religion. After the meeting on Sunday, it is even possible Erdogan will open a few Russian Orthodox churches just to show that he is not against Russian Orthodoxy.

Overall, Turkey is not a contender for Russia. At best, Erdogan is hoping to carve certain areas for himself, and to work out a deal amicably. Putin only makes deals that favor his agenda. Erdogan would have to give up a lot, or even all of Libya.

There is no way, Turkey can fight on three fronts:

  1. Russia in Syria
  2. Egypt in Libya
  3. Greece in the Mediterranean

Additionally, Turkey does not have logistics, nor does it have the resources. Therefore, the conflict will not be resolved easily or soon.

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Christina Kitova

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

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