Turkey, Russia should renew dialogue on Libya

Turkey, Russia should renew dialogue on Libya

It’s been six months since Turkey and Russia brokered a meeting in Moscow between the two warring parties of Libya for ending the armed conflict and the resumption of talks for a negotiated settlement.

At the time, Turkey had used its influence on Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj of the Government of National Accord (GNA) based in Tripoli and Russia on General Khalifa Haftar, the commander of the Libyan National Army (LNA) in Tobruk.

At the expense of humiliating Russian President Vladimir Putin, Haftar did not sign the truce document in Moscow and left Moscow in the middle of the night. Still, Turkey and Russia continued efforts to contribute Germany’s efforts to hold a conference in Berlin on Jan. 19 and issue a road map for peace which could never be implemented due to Haftar’s continued attacks against civilian and military targets in Tripoli.

Instead of abiding by the truce, Haftar intensified his military operations to claim a quick victory before Turkey totally pulls the wires and changes the balance on the terrain. His assumptions have been rapidly foiled as Turkey’s military weight and air superiority reversed the military picture of the internal conflict as Sarraj’s forces expelled the LNA towards the eastern parts of the country and captured many strategic locations.

This defeat has caused questions about Haftar’s ability to run the proxy war on behalf of his supporters and sponsors, namely the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and, although indirectly, Russia and France.

These countries brokered a meeting in Cairo last week where Haftar proposed a peace settlement as a last resort to enduring his legitimacy as Ankara and Tripoli declared him persona non grata.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, in a televised interview late June 8 after his phone conversation with United States President Donald Trump, said it was highly likely that Haftar’s mandate in Libya has ended.

Apparently, easier said than done. Although he lost credibility in the eyes of many, Haftar and his supporters will not easily give up as seen in Cairo last week. Egypt, Russia, the UAE, France, Saudi Arabia and Jordan were among the countries that welcomed the Haftar’s futile plan.

Erdoğan expressed Turkey’s frustration with the move as he particularly singled out Russia’s positive response and support to Haftar. “Because [Russia] has been denying its military deployment. But, now, they have around 19 aircraft there. I want to discuss all these things with him. I think we can plan our next steps after talking to him,” Erdoğan said, referring Putin. It was the first time that Turkey has openly accused Russia of deploying warplanes to Libya, a week after the U.S. military command in Africa has claimed about it.

At the point we have arrived, three things are gaining importance. The GNA, backed by Turkey’s military and drones, is continuing its advance to gain the control of Sirte and al-Jufra airbase. It wants to expand its control along the shoreline and around the Oil Crescent to further consolidate its military gains. It won’t likely stop until these objectives are met.

Erdoğan hinted that he and President Trump have agreed on a number of issues concerning Libya and the ongoing civil war. He did not detail the aspects of the Turkish-U.S. convergence, but one may predict cooperation over the Libyan oil and natural gas would be part of this deal. Needless to say, assuring Trump’s backing will strengthen Erdoğan’s position in his interaction with other countries.

Finally, Erdoğan’s signaling that Turkey wants to continue dialogue with Russia on Libya is also noteworthy, given the complexity of the relationship between the two countries stretching from the Black Sea to the Caucasus, from Syria to Libya.

However, the conditions have drastically changed in the Libyan theater since January and it’s very obvious that Turkey and Russia should engage in a new round of talks if they intend to renew their joint commitment for peace and stability of Libya. Just like in Syria, there is no military solution to the Libyan question either.