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Libya is blundering between Russia, US and the West’s interests

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and Turkish National Defense Minister Hulusi Akar meet with Fayez al-Sarraj (L), Chairman of the Presidential Council of Libya’s Government of National Accord (GNA) on current issues on Libya in Moscow, Russia on 13 January 2020. [Cem Özdel - Anadolu Agency]
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and Turkish National Defense Minister Hulusi Akar meet with Fayez al-Sarraj (L), Chairman of the Presidential Council of Libya’s Government of National Accord (GNA) on current issues on Libya in Moscow, Russia on 13 January 2020. [Cem Özdel - Anadolu Agency]

Confirmed calls for a ceasefire in Libya made by the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin led the two sides of the conflict in the war-torn country to announce reaching a ceasefire agreement on 12 January. After discussions, the two sides agreed to sign the ceasefire agreement in Moscow on Monday.

The ceasefire aimed to end the hostilities and see both sides of the conflict begin a political dialogue. On Monday, the UN-backed Chairman of the Presidential Council of Libya and Prime Minister of the Government of National Accord (GNA) of Libya, Fayez Al-Sarraj, and the renegade Libyan Colonel Khalifa Haftar arrived in Moscow to sign the agreement.

Representatives from Turkey and Russia including the Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov, were present. Turkey has recently signed a defence memorandum of understanding with the UN-backed government and Russia is an ally of Haftar. A covert Russian alliance with Haftar became clear after the Wagner Group, a security contractor with the Kremlin, suffered losses in Libya recently while fighting alongside Haftar forces.

After talks that involved the Libyan, Turkish and Russian sides, Al-Sarraj signed the ceasefire agreement on Monday, hoping to end nine months of attacks on Tripoli carried out by Haftar and his allies. However, Haftar did not sign the agreement, claiming he needed two days for discussions. Why didn’t Haftar sign the ceasefire agreement?

In 2011, NATO backed a Libyan revolution that led to the ouster and killing of the long-time dictator Muammar Gaddafi. Since then, the country has been wracked by conflicting powers. Currently, there is a government led by Haftar, which is based in the eastern city of Tobruk, fighting against the UN-backed government, which is led by Al-Sarraj, based in Tripoli.

READ: Haftar takes Sirte, threatens Misrata, but wants Tripoli

Since last April, Haftar’s forces have been attacking Tripoli. No power in the world, even the UN, has condemned the attacks except Turkey. They only call for solving the conflict peacefully, but on the ground, they violate the UN ban of sending weapons to Libya. When Turkey signed the defence memorandum of understanding with Tripoli, the world stood up against Turkey.

However, after Haftar left Moscow without signing the agreement, Lavrov said: “We never pretended that the talks in Moscow should be a final meeting that would resolve all issues [of the Libyan conflict] without exception. We promoted this meeting as a step and a contribution to the preparation for the upcoming international conference on Libya in Berlin.”

Meanwhile, Erdogan said: “The putschist Haftar did not sign the ceasefire. He first said yes, but later unfortunately he left Moscow, he fled Moscow… Despite this, we find the talks in Moscow were positive as they showed the true face of the putschist Haftar to the international community.”

Hafez Lighweel, professor of political sciences at Johns Hopkins University, ruled out that Haftar was likely to sign the ceasefire deal because he “does not own his decisions.” As he was speaking to Al Jazeera Arabic TV on Tuesday night, he described him as a “mercenary” who has been carrying out a proxy war for Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and others.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (R) meets with Khalifa Haftar eastern Libya-based military commander at the Russian Foreign Ministry's Reception House in Moscow, Russia on 13 January 2020. [Russian Foreign Ministry / Handout - Anadolu Agency]

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (R) meets with Khalifa Haftar eastern Libya-based military commander at the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Reception House in Moscow, Russia on 13 January 2020. [Russian Foreign Ministry / Handout – Anadolu Agency]

Lighweel did not expect that Haftar would stop fighting before occupying Tripoli and ridding it of the legitimate government, pointing out these are the goals of his allies. Miftah Salama, a Libyan academic, described Egypt and the UAE as “puppets of the Western powers and the United States.” He said that their ties and actions speak for their relations with the West. He also reiterated that Haftar is partially carrying out the Russian agenda.

Salama said: “[The West, US and Russia] hope to get the most benefit [from] the Libyan oil reserves.” Libya has over 48 billion barrels of crude oil reserve, making it the largest oil reserve in Africa and the ninth largest in the world.

READ: Will Egypt fight Turkey in Libya?

Following Haftar’s rejection to sign the ceasefire agreement in Moscow, Aguila Saleh Issa, the speaker of the pro-Haftar House of Representatives in Tobruk, denied that Haftar needed two days for discussions. He stressed: “The ceasefire in Libya is over and the war will resume.”

Professor Lighweel reiterated this as he revealed that the UAE’s officials were part of Haftar’s delegation to Moscow and they asked him not to sign the agreement.

Russia, the US and the West got very angry about the situation in Libya when Turkey stood up to defend the UN-backed government against Haftar’s attacks. Turkish support for Tripoli would help stabilise the country and the black market for oil will stop. Turkish military support for Tripoli is likely to happen because Erdogan said he would teach Haftar a lesson after he left Moscow without signing the ceasefire agreement.

People take part in a demonstration against eastern military commander Khalifa Haftar, who is based in the east of the country, and in support of the UN-recognised government of national accord (GNA) at Martyrs' Square in Tripoli on 10 January 2020. [Hazem Turkia - Anadolu Agency]

People take part in a demonstration against eastern military commander Khalifa Haftar, who is based in the east of the country, and in support of the UN-recognised government of national accord (GNA) at Martyrs’ Square in Tripoli on 10 January 2020. [Hazem Turkia – Anadolu Agency]

President Donald Trump himself made a phone call to Haftar and recognised his significant role in securing oil resources. Guma El-Gamaty, a Libyan academic and politician, said that Haftar “would be stripped of important political leverage that would significantly reduce his relevance, both internally and on the international stage” if he was defeated by Tripoli and stripped of oil resources.

Libya’s Former Army Chief of Staff Yousef Al-Mangoush reiterated to Anadolu that it was “clear that the decision is not in his [Haftar’s] hands. I do think he is just working as a proxy for other actors.” On Turkish support, he said: “We do think that Turkey will give its open support to Libya’s Tripoli government. And this support, of course, will aim to end the war, prepare the situation, and rebuild the state and its institutions.”

Western powers are not interested in a political or a peaceful solution that would see the legitimate government remain in power. “The only aim of the Western powers and the US is to undermine the Turkish-Libyan deals,” Salama said.

READ: What are the consequences of Turkish boots on the ground in Libya?

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu wondered where the EU countries were during the continuous attacks on Tripoli during the eight months before Turkish interference. “If Haftar continues like this, the Berlin process is meaningless,” Çavuşoğlu told reporters after the failure of the Moscow deal.

According to Lighweel, Berlin did not officially announce news about its planned conference before it was sure of the failure of Moscow’s deal, stressing that was the end Germany desired. He said that Berlin invited several parties and countries in order to get them involved and thus the Libyan crisis has been perpetuated.

Lighweel and Salama spoke about French, Italian and Russian interests in Libya. Both of them highlighted the silence of France and Italy regarding the continuous attacks on Tripoli before Turkish interference. They also said that they are still silent regarding Egyptian and UAE interference and weapons supplies to Haftar. On top of this, the Russians are there through the Wagner Group.

On why Russia seems to be putting pressure on Haftar, Lighweel said: “Turkey and Russia are strategic allies [and] maintain strong economic ties. Russia could sacrifice Haftar, who is a mercenary, for the sake of Turkey. However, it is waiting until the end. If it lost hope with Haftar, it will clearly stand with Turkey and take a firm stance against Haftar.”

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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