Libya: appeals for peace have not yet had an effect
Will Libya Peace Talks in Berlin Lead to any Peace?
Khalifa Haftar rejects the initiative of Putin and Erdogan to temporarily end hostilities
The commander of the so-called Libyan National Army (LNA), General Khalifa Haftar, rejected the call of the presidents of Russia and Turkey, Vladimir Putin and Recep Erdogan, to cease fire from the sides in the civil war, starting on January 12.
Since April last year, fighting has continued in Libya between the armed forces of the internationally recognized Government of National Accord, led by Faiz Saraj, who controls Tripoli, and the LNA, headed by a former ally of Gaddafi, General Khalifa Haftar, who is supported by the interim cabinet of Abdullah Abdurrahman at-Thani.
According to media reports, in a statement issued on behalf of Haftar’s military formations, the initiative of the head «friendly state» Vladimir Putin is welcomed to achieve peace in Libya, but it is noted that the fight against «terrorist groups», seized the capital of the country Tripoli, however, will continue. Terrorists Haftar and his supporters traditionally call the Government of National Accord of Saraj.
The government in Tripoli, backed by Turkey and Qatar, has come under constant attack since April last year by forces led by General Khalifa Haftar, backed by Ankara’s regional rivals: Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE. Erdogan has repeatedly accused Russia of sending private paramilitaries in support of Haftar, although Moscow denies these charges..
Nevertheless, following the results of the recent bilateral talks in Istanbul, the leaders of Russia and Turkey, Recep Erdogan, appealed to the conflicting parties in Libya with a proposal to stop hostilities on the night of January 12. This was stated by the foreign ministers of the two states..
In turn, the Saraj government agreed to consider any credible ceasefire initiatives, reports Bloomberg. At the same time, Tripoli insists on the legality of its right to enter into military alliances with other countries to protect against aggression..
Earlier, Ankara expressed its readiness to provide military support to the Saraj government. Erdogan, after a corresponding vote in parliament, has already sent troops to Tripoli. While Haftar’s army is reportedly supported by Russian mercenaries from a private military company «Wagner», who have already suffered significant losses.
Chief Research Fellow at the Institute of Europe, Middle East expert Alexander Shumilin in a commentary for the Russian Service «Voice of America» noted that, apparently, the call of Putin and Erdogan will remain a good gesture and will not affect the balance of power in Libya. In his opinion, it is now important what actions the parties will take in the future..
«However, with regard to Erdogan, however, everything is more or less clear, – he specified. – Turkey will continue to deploy its units in Tripoli. But how Putin will act is a mystery. It is not yet clear who exactly Haftar will be able to rely on, who will risk making a contribution to his offensive operation. If there are any, then the operation will continue. If Haftar does not receive proper support, then the offensive, of course, will drown.».
At the same time, Alexander Shumilin expressed doubt that Russian-Turkish relations could sharply deteriorate because of Libya. Although the fact that they will not improve is for sure, he stated. «Most likely, disagreements on resolving the Libyan problem will become a factor in the cooling of bilateral relations, – he suggested. – But to what extent they cool down will depend on the development of the situation.».
It seems to the political scientist that if Haftar enlists the support of Saudi Arabia or Egypt and goes on the offensive, then Putin will have to take some unambiguous position: «But what exactly it will be, what will be the specific steps of the Kremlin, will they participate «Wagnerians» in this operation on the side of Haftar or not, there are many questions here».
In the same time Alexander Shumilin is inclined to believe that everything in Libya will remain unchanged, including the participation of Russian mercenaries in the war. But officially Putin will prefer to distance himself from the Haftar operation, the political scientist predicted.
On Friday, it also became known about a telephone conversation between the President of Russia and his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in the context of the aforementioned call for a truce from Istanbul. According to a statement by the Kremlin press service, among other things, it was said about «the need to increase international efforts to resolve the crisis in Libya by peaceful means». And the official representative of the head of the Arab republic stressed that the President of Egypt confirmed the unacceptability «illegal foreign interference in Libyan affairs» (quoted by TASS).
According to the head of the Center for Middle East Studies at the Institute of International Economics and International Relations, Professor Irina Zvyagelskaya, the situation in Libya is aggravated by the fact that the country is split and there is no autocracy in it. Therefore, in her opinion, it is difficult to effectively influence both Haftar and the government of Saraj.
«All this makes them extremely unpredictable, especially when it comes to Haftar., – she added to the comments for the Russian Service «Voices of America». – It turns out that people endowed with considerable powers make decisions at their own discretion, not taking too much into account the opinions of others and recommendations from outside, think little about the consequences, and so on.».
As seen by Irina Zvyagelskaya, Haftar – a person driven primarily by personal ambitions: «And the fact that he did not respond positively to the appeal of Putin and Erdogan once again testifies to the fact that, from his point of view, he did not achieve the solution of the tasks set and is going to continue to bend his line. But I think that this will not lead to any drastic changes.». The Libyan conflict has been going on for a long time. And I’m not sure that Haftar can count on a quick and unconditional victory», – summed up the orientalist.
Khalifa Haftar announced the beginning of the siege of Tripoli last year. Recently, his army took the city of Sirte, located on the outskirts of the capital, but then there were reports that government forces regained control over this city..
American expert opinion
Analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington DC Bulent Aliriza (Bulent Aliriza, CSIS) believes that Russia and Turkey, which support different sides in the civil war in Libya, are interested in maintaining and improving bilateral relations even if a truce in the North African country is not reached.
Bulent Aliriza compares the situation in Libya to Syria, where Russia supports President Bashar al-Assad as opposed to supporting the opposition forces in Turkey. Nevertheless, the expert emphasizes, Ankara and Moscow continue to develop political, economic and military ties..
«Despite disagreements over Syria and Libya, where Russia and Turkey occupy opposing positions, they want to maintain relations. Let’s see if this can lead to results (truce) in Libya, in Syria it did not work, – expert says. – Haftar’s rejection of the ceasefire is clearly a topic that the Turkish delegation in Moscow on Monday will bring up in talks with their Russian counterparts. But again, I think that the desire of both sides to maintain relations will be sufficient to overcome their differences over both Libya and Syria.».
Bulent Aliriza notes that the energy issue, in particular the pipeline, plays an important role in relations between Moscow and Ankara. «Turkish Stream-2», supplying Russian gas to Turkey under the Black Sea and officially opened by Presidents Putin and Erdogan on Wednesday, January 8 in Istanbul. Also, Ankara, despite the objections of the United States and other NATO allies, purchased the Russian S-400 anti-aircraft missile system and may plan to purchase Russian Su-35 fighters..
«Turkey receives 40 percent, or slightly less, of its gas and energy needs from Russia», – the expert notes, adding that Turkey is likely to continue to develop relations with Russia, despite possible further deterioration in relations with the United States, in particular due to possible purchases of the Russian Su-35.
«We see a tangible rapprochement between Russia and Turkey after the difficulties in relations they faced after a Russian plane was shot down in 2015, – adds an expert. – I don’t see Syria, Libya or any other problem anytime soon interrupting or ending the trend towards better relations between the two countries, which also seems to be underpinned by the good personal relationship between Putin and Erdogan.».
According to an expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, in addition to the sale of Russian gas and weapons for President Putin, an important role is played by the opportunity to alienate Turkey from its NATO allies and weaken the alliance: «Russia’s ability to develop relations with a NATO member country and effectively alienate it from its allies on a number of issues should be an important foreign policy victory from Putin’s perspective».
«Russia should also build a nuclear reactor for Turkey, – adds an expert. – Obviously, from the point of view of Russia, this is an important relationship».