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Russia, Egypt to hold talks between Libya PM and strongman Haftar

Libyan Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar [File photo]
Libyan Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar [File photo]

Russia and Egypt have been reportedly working together to broker a meeting between Libyan Prime Minister Fayez Al-Sarraj and military strongman Khalifa Haftar. The purpose behind the meeting is to find a necessary political settlement to the chaos in Libya, according to The New Arab.

Following its intervention in Syria, Russia is looking for a greater role in the region by supporting Field Marshal Hafta who opposes Al-Sarraj’s rule in the UN-backed government in Tripoli.

“Russia wants to quickly find a solution to the crisis and is taking the lead in the initiative, especially after it managed to play a key role in the Syrian conflict,” an Egyptian diplomat told The New Arab.

Russian support is likely to embolden Haftar’s attempts at taking Tripoli which could add further fuel to the conflict and create further setbacks for a unity government in Libya.

Haftar holds close ties with Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, and has developed a strong friendship with Russia, visiting Moscow twice last year to request aid for his force’s campaign against Daesh in Sirte and Benghazi.

The growing alliance was confirmed earlier this month when Russia welcomed Haftar on board the Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean as it made its way back from Syria.

The Admiral Kuznetsov was seen near the coast of the eastern Libyan town of Tobruk where Haftar was invited to meet with Russian officers and spoke via video link to Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu.

Russia largely views Libya as a way to anchor its return to the Middle East, according to Alexei Malashenko, the chief researcher at Dialogue of Civilisations Institute, a think tank with close ties to the Russian leadership.

Russian President Vladimir Putin views Libya as way to restore his country’s influence in Libya.  Before he was overthrown, Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi had been a long-standing Russian ally. Putin also opposed the NATO campaign that helped to topple him.

“We hope for a return of the Russian state to its role as a support of Libya’s armed forces, which have been abandoned by most countries in their war against terrorism,” Abdallah Bilhaq, a spokesman for the Haftar-backed eastern parliament, explained, citing the roughly $4 billion in pre-2011 arms contracts.

Haftar has largely shunned attempts to support the UN-mediated deal that created the Government of National Accord (GNA) just over a year ago, accusing the government of aligning itself with some of the “Islamist-leaning forces” that took control of Tripoli in 2014.

According to Egyptian state media, Al-Sarraj met with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi and Egypt’s Chief of Staff Mahmoud Hegazi last week to discuss efforts to reach a consensus between the warring Libyan factions.

Shortly after Al-Sarraj’s visit, UN Special Representative to Libya Martin Kobler was also in Cairo to meet with Hegazi and be briefed on outcomes of latest reconciliation talks.

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