By Dobrin Yotov
“Today we are facing – I’m not afraid to say – the” Syrianization “of Libya. We cannot imagine this situation continuing 200 kilometers off the coast of Europe! ”
Libya is becoming more and more like Syria, and this is not the insight of French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian. However, two weeks have passed since his speech before a committee of the French Senate, and the situation continues and continues.
The two conflicts are now identical not only in the identity of the foreign interventionists, but also in the physical participants in the hostilities themselves. However, recent revelations are more reminiscent of the horrors of Bosnia.
Khalifa Haftar’s offensive against Tripoli failed miserably. The fighting spread far to the east, and with it thousands of refugees. The cities ceded by Haftar were looted by their “liberators“, according to reports from the UN mission.
The mission is also investigating reports of mass graves found after the escape of the vanquished. As the Libyan war intensified, the “peacekeepers” became more active.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi issued a statement calling for a truce, the withdrawal of foreign mercenaries and the disbandment of armed groups.
Haftar’s other allies, Moscow and Abu Dhabi, immediately embraced the Cairo initiative. But Turkey, the “sponsor” of legitimate Prime Minister Fayez al-Saraj, rejected it and bet on talks in Geneva, resumed after nearly four months of fighting.
Europeans also became more active.
High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell collected the signatures of the foreign ministers of Germany, France and Italy – the latter two traditionally quarreling over the Libyan issue – calling for an immediate end to the fighting.
And, most unexpectedly, the United States was also interested in the events in Libya. And at the highest level. Amid civil protests over racial justice, the ongoing pandemic, the Federal Reserve’s grim predictions and the upcoming election, Donald Trump has found time for telephone conversations on the Libyan issue with Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
Of course, the content of these conversations cannot be judged from the laconic and sterilized official press releases. It will be evident in the coming days and weeks.
From now on, one thing is certain: the main motives for the unusual diplomatic activity around Libya are not humanitarian, but purely material, said Tarek Megerisi of the European Council on Foreign Relations in an interview with Saturday 150:
“There are two main reasons for activating diplomats. The first is that Turkey has made a decisive turn in the fighting in Libya. So much so that the government in Tripoli, which enjoys Turkish support, is very close to a complete victory over Haftar, which is backed by countries such as Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and France. In just two days, Haftar’s men retreated hundreds of miles.
Russia is among General Haftar’s supporters. After retreating from Tripoli, it decided to strengthen important air bases in central Libya. This really scared the United States.
The Americans are concerned that if Russia builds air defenses at these bases, it could negatively affect NATO air operations over the central Mediterranean from Alliance bases in Sicily.
So, the reasons for the current diplomatic activity are, firstly, the realization that Turkey can establish dominance over Libya and, secondly, the fear that Russia may strengthen itself in the mentioned bases. “
Libyan Prime Minister Fais al-Saraj has declared that he will liberate the entire country – is this political rhetoric or a sign that further escalation awaits us?
A little bit of both. The government of the national consent in Tripoli has indicated that it intends to take over Sirte and the Jufra air base. I suspect that the Americans are encouraging him to counteract Russian influence in the area.
In addition to reaffirming its intentions regarding Sirte, Saraj’s declaration is also a response to provocative conditions in Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s proposal for a truce. Because, by the way, he demanded that all the troops of Tripoli surrender their weapons.
Prime Minister Saraj had to respond to this provocation, but his words seem more like a pose. We will see in the next few weeks what will happen near Sirte. Sisi’s plan is not a good basis for negotiations, but a provocation, isn’t it?
This is the opening of the door. Yes, President Sisi supports one of the parties to the conflict and would like events to develop in its favor, so it is obvious that any of his proposals will be biased. Still, Cairo’s proposal is a chance for diplomacy in a country that has been at war for more than a year.
Unfortunately, given the history of the conflict, the government in Tripoli and Turkey will not be inclined to negotiate until they believe they have prevailed. That’s why they keep fighting for Sirte and Joufra.”
But military commissioners on both sides have resumed talks with the UN in Geneva. How do they continue to fight and negotiate?
I think the commissioners will negotiate with UN officials, but this process is unlikely to progress until Tripoli’s troops take over Sirte or are repulsed by the Russians. Until this battle is over, there will hardly be any meaningful negotiations.
Do you think that the Americans (if that is really their goal) will be able to drive a wedge between Turkey and Russia?
I do not believe this will happen, because neither Washington nor the Europeans are active enough diplomatically to shift Russia’s role on the ground. In the last year, Russia has built a significant influence in Libya at a relatively low cost – about 2,000 mercenaries and 14 fighter jets.
Today, at the time of the talks, the Russians are the only ones trying to actively mediate between Turkey, on the one hand, and Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, on the other.
Unfortunately, Europe, once a major diplomatic player in Libya, is now almost completely obsessed with putting pressure on Turkey over (gas drilling) in the Eastern Mediterranean, instead of trying to resolve the situation in Libya itself.
This means that it is more convenient for Turkey to negotiate with Russia as the only broker left in the country.
This means that Europe needs to change its approach. How?
Europeans need to work again in Libya. Their position must be principled and in line with Europe’s traditional values. They must use Operation Irini to ensure compliance with the arms embargo and to prosecute any violation with European or more extensive international sanctions.
They must make all Libyan factions agree to a real truce and put pressure on them, as happened in 2014 and 2015, if they try to embarrass the UN process.
Finally, Europeans must fill the vacuum between Turkey, on the one hand, and Egypt and the Emirates, on the other. They already have the platform for such mediation – the Berlin Process, which was launched in January.
Now they have to use this forum more actively, because if they remain passive, Russia will continue to dig in Libya, and Europe will not be able to influence either Turkey or the Libyan factions.
What will happen if Europe fails?
There will be a situation very similar to the situation in Syria. Turkey will command, Russia will compete with it and we will have a “frozen” conflict. There will be two spheres of influence – Turkish in the west and Russian in the east.
The war will flare up from time to time when Turkey or Russia feels it can strengthen its position.
This situation will be as unfavorable for Libya as it is for Europe. Europe is far more sensitive to what is happening in Libya than Turkey and Russia – both in terms of migration and in terms of security and energy.