Will Turkey still deploy troops to Libya after truce?
An intense diplomatic traffic has yielded a cease-fire between Libya’s two major powers, the Tripoli-based Government National Accord (GNA) and Tobruk-based General Khalifa Haftar. At the center of this diplomacy was Turkey and Russia, whose presidents, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Vladimir Putin, issued a call for a cease-fire during a bilateral meeting on Jan. 8 in Istanbul.
The diplomatic path also included the involvement of other related parties including Germany and Italy who played an active and positive role in efforts to reach a cease-fire so that a peace conference can be held in Berlin in the coming period.
Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel held a very important meeting with Putin in Moscow on Jan. 11 where she expressed her commitment to organizing a summit at the leaders’ level under the U.N. auspices. She sure has welcomed the efforts for the cease-fire to this end.
Having important bonds with Libya, Italy has also played an important role throughout this process. The Italian government is one of the rare powers which has good ties with the two rival camps of Libya. It was also remarkable that Italy did not sign the final declaration of the Libya meeting in Egypt. The declaration signed by France, Greece, Greek Cyprus and Egypt blamed Turkey for escalation in Libya.
Italian Prime Minister Guiseppe Conte is expected to be in Turkey on Jan. 13 to discuss the latest developments in Libya. With Turkey and Russia having become two major influencing powers in Libya, Italy wants to be on board.
Having said all, it is no doubt that the key factor was Russia as it could persuade Haftar to abide by the cease-fire. At a press conference with Merkel, Putin has emphasized that the continuation of the turmoil in Libya undermines security and stability not just in that region but also has negative implications for Europe, through illegal migration, smuggling, and arms and drug trafficking.
“It is crucial to put an end to the armed confrontation between Marshal Haftar’s Libyan National Army and the Government of National Accord of Fayyez al-Sarraj, to establish a cease-fire and take steps to restart the political process with the ultimate goal of overcoming the split inside the country and forming national state institutions,” he said, pointing out Moscow’s political objective.
On a question about the presence of the Russian mercenaries that belong to the Wagner group, Putin has categorically distanced Russia from the activities of this group and said they do not represent Russia.
Turkey’s role was also quite important. It would be no exaggeration to describe Turkey’s penetration into the Libyan case as the game-changer. Following the signing of two memoranda of understandings with the GNA, the Turkish government received the approval of parliament for the deployment of troops to Libya. A small number of troops have already been sent, as stated by Erdoğan.
Turkey’s perspective was to be able to break the unbalanced equation in the Libyan territories to the disadvantage of the Tripoli-government and to force for a political breakthrough after the cease-fire. As a matter of fact, the Turkish strategy has well functioned so far as Haftar accepted the call for the truce.
It should be noted that Turkey’s very recent statement on Haftar was a significant one for the Tobruk-based general to stop the hostilities. At a press conference on Jan. 11, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu acknowledged the role of Haftar in today’s and tomorrow’s Libya, as he said, “It’s out of the question that we ignore Haftar. He is also an actor in Libya.” This message tells openly that Turkey does not rule out Haftar’s influence and role in the future of Libya.
With the cease-fire announced and started to be implemented without major breaches on the first day, questions will linger on how the parties will sustain the process. It will be closely followed whether Turkey will continue to deploy troops to Libya or will suspend the deployment after the cease-fire.
For the time being, a large deployment from Turkey should not be expected. Turkey has successfully used its military penetration into Libya to reach a cease-fire with hopes that a peace process will soon be launched in Berlin.
The success of the cease-fire and the peace summit will determine the flow of things in Libya.