While on the one hand the year just greeted has not seen any positive development within the Libyan framework , 2023 on the other hand could lead to quite a few new developments. The first concerns the direct interest of the United States in the dossier.
Washington has been observing in the distance for years, without direct intervention by its own diplomats. A situation that could change now: in the past few hours, as underlined by Al Arabiya , the director of the CIA William Burns visited the North African country and would have held talks both in Tripoli , with Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Ddeibah , and in Benghazi with general Haftar .
The other important novelty is represented by the dialogue , unofficial but now well acclaimed in diplomatic circles, between Haftar himself and the Tripoli authorities. The general, it should be remembered, is the strong man of eastern Libya. Or at least of that set of militias grouped under the acronym of the Libyan National Army ( LNA ) with which he controls Cyrenaica and a part of Fezzan . Therefore, a latent dialogue between East and West could lead to important scenarios for the future.
Burns’ arrival in Libya is (almost) a surprise. Washington has never seemed fully interested in the Libyan dossier. After all, the NATO operation itself, which was decisive in 2011 for the killing and fall of Gaddafi , was mostly led by the Anglo-French. An affair of Europe therefore, even before that of the USA. Even subsequently and especially with the arrival of Donald Trump in the White House, the United States appeared more secluded.
Washington has never organized international summits dedicated to Libya, often leaving the task to Europe as evidenced by the successive meetings in Paris, Palermo and Berlin between 2018 and 2020.
Stephanie Williams , until a few months ago the UN special envoy for Libya, is indeed an American but has always acted in the name of the United Nations and not officially of the United States. Burns’ visit may therefore have marked a change of course. The White House wants to see clearly and could become the protagonist again in the maze of the intricate dossier.
Furthermore, the fact that Burns met, as indicated by the Arab media, both Ddeibah and Haftar could pave the way for an attempt at mediation between the parties managed directly by the US. An important and unprecedented novelty, at least in the Libyan context.
Haftar’s proximity to Russia
Why would the US have decided to change pace right now? The reason perhaps lies in Russian activism in Libya. Activism that has always been there, especially from 2015 onward, the year in which Moscow began to support General Haftar more or less explicitly. But that now, in the light of the events in Ukraine and the possible Russian interests in moving in the Mediterranean , is not welcomed.
General Haftar is also a US citizen, having lived in Virginia for many years during the period of exile during the Gaddafi era. This has not prevented him from becoming one of the main Russian references in Libya. Weapons, money and Wagner contractors have partially supported Haftar’s war efforts to retake the whole of Cyrenaica. In eastern Libya at one point even the circulating dinars were printed in an institute of the Russian federation.
There were moments of coldness, if not real tension between the parties. Haftar is not the best of allies: often the general decides without notifying anyone, in 2020 during a meeting in Moscow he left the Russian capital prematurely, suddenly interrupting a series of talks scheduled by the Kremlin diplomacy.
However, the Russian presence in eastern Libya is well established. Recently, the strong man of the LNA has not hidden his closeness to Moscow. In late 2022, his army’s communication channels showed Russian-made MiGs deployed at the Al Jufra base . “Gifts” from the Kremlin put on display during some inspections by LNA leaders. Among these also the sons of Haftar, Saddam and Khaled .
Images that caused the reaction of Africom, the US Africa Command, says the planes were shot at Haftar by Russia in the spring of 2020 in violation of the UN-imposed arms embargo on Libya. The presence of Russian assets in the bases controlled by Haftar was one of those “secrets” known to just about everyone. Only now such secrets are no longer tolerated, at least overseas.
The role of Turkey and future prospects
In any case, if Haftar’s role is important on a military level, it is much less so on a political level. The main players in this sense are the heads of the two governments vying for power: on the one hand Ddeibah, recognized by the United Nations, and on the other Fathi Bashaga , voted instead by the parliament based in Tobruck , in Cyrenaica. The former is based in Tripoli, the latter in the east of the country. However, it is Haftar himself who has now almost abandoned Bashaga. While, on the contrary, Ddeibah appears increasingly strong and with ever greater support, not only in the west of the country.
The dialogue between Haftar’s forces and Ddeibah’s entourage could lead to interesting scenarios with a view to a future reunification of Libyan institutions. The US, back in the front row, is pushing for elections within the year. A position also expressed by the United Nations and by the various European countries, at the moment a little on the sidelines. However, the road to the vote is rather impervious.
There is no agreement on an electoral law and also on a constitutional and institutional basis. The presidents of the two officially recognized parliaments, that of Tobruck and the Council of State of Tripoli, have been speaking for months but without concrete steps forward.
Furthermore, as underlined by Agenzia Nova , much will depend on the Turkish elections of 2023. Ankara is the main political player in Tripoli, with Erdogan linked to the Ddeibah government by military and commercial agreements. Turkey’s position is therefore essential for understanding the future direction of the North African country.
Italy for its part, despite being among the countries at the moment at the window, can still play its part. In fact, Rome has confirmed itself in recent years as Libya’s leading commercial partner, with Eni leading the way thanks to its interests in gas and oil. Crude which, for the record, Libya has continued to extract regularly in recent months.