Russia Attempts To Freeze The
Conflict In Libya
By Moon Of Alabama
June 09, 2020 "Information
Clearing House" -The war in Libya has become
a proxy conflict between many international players.
The Government of National Accord (GNA) under Prime
Minister Fayez al-Sarraj is supported by the Muslim
Brotherhood. Its main political and financial sponsor is
Qatar and its main military ally is Turkey. Italy is
also supporting Sarraj. The GNA controls the capital
Tripoli and Misrata in the west of the country.
On the other side is the (former?) CIA asset Khalifa
Haftar with his Libyan National Army. He controls
Libya's east and most of its oil resources. He is
supported by the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia,
Egypt, Greece and France.
Russia sees its involvement in the conflict as an
adjudicator. It wants to reestablish its long term
business interests in Libya which had fallen to the
wayside after the war the U.S., UK and France waged
against country in 2011. It has sold weapons to Hafter
through the UAE and has allowed Russian mercenaries to
take part in the war on the side of Haftar's LNA.
Since April 2019 Haftar attempted to take Tripoli and
to evict the GNA. The fight was more difficult and went
on much longer than he had hoped for. The economic
situation of both sides is interwoven and makes the war
complicated. In January Russia called on Hafter to
stop it. It held a peace conference in Moscow and
urged him to sign a ceasefire agreement:
After hours of negotiations brokered by Russia and
Turkey, Haftar on Monday evening asked until Tuesday
morning to look over the agreement already signed by
Fayez al-Sarraj, the head of the United Nations-recognised
Government of National Accord (GNA).
But Haftar, whose eastern-based forces launched
an offensive to seize the GNA's base of Tripoli in
April, left Moscow without signing the deal drafted
at the indirect talks, Russia's foreign ministry was
quoted as saying by TASS news agency on Tuesday.
The snub towards Russia was not forgotten.
Before the meeting in Moscow Turkey had promised
military support to the GNA. In exchange the GNA had
signed an agreement with Turkey that supposedly
demarcates a sea border between Turkey and Libya. That
agreed border ignores the rights of Greece and Cyprus
and will never be internationally recognized. But Turkey
uses the agreement to claim extensive rights in the
eastern Mediterranean sea.
A week after the failed talks in Moscow another
attempt for ceasefire negotiations, this one in Berlin,
also failed. Germany again tried to talk sense into
Hafter during a visit in March but without results.
Meanwhile the conflict escalated with Turkish
supplies of drones and artillery and with 13,000 'Syrian
rebels' hired by Turkey as mercenaries to strengthen the
GNA. The Turkish operation is financed by Qatar which
recently also intervened to stop the drop of the Turkish
Lira. The UAE countered that Turkish buildup with more
supplies of Russian made Pantsyr air defense systems to
the LNA and more mercenaries hired from Russia and
Sudan. Confronted with the Pantsyr's Turkish drones
dropped by the dozens and the front lines hardly moved.
On May 17 the picture changed. Turkish drones were
suddenly able to hit the Pantsyrs and within a day
destroyed at least six of them. At the same time the
Russian mercenaries received orders to pull back from
the frontline. Left without protection from air defenses
Haftar's forces mostly fled and the GNA pushed forward.
The maps show the recent changes.
May 8, 2020
biggerJune 8, 2020
There have been no leaks of what has happened behind
the scene. It is possible that Turkey was able to
electronically jam the radar of the Pantsyrs so that its
drones could take them out. But if it had that
capability why did it not use it earlier?
Others believe that Russia had had enough of Haftar's
escapades and thought it necessary to punish him for his
But Russia did not completely drop him. Shortly after
the Pantsyr massacre Russian fighter planes were ferried
from Russia to Libya and set up at the Al-Jufra air base
which is under LNA control. They will allow Russia to
keep a balance between the feuding sides.
So far that plan worked well. On Saturday Egypt
announced a new ceasefire in Libya starting today
and Haftar has finally agreed to it:
The conference in Cairo was attended by Hifter and
Aguila Saleh, speaker of the Tobruk-based House of
Representatives. Several foreign diplomats,
including U.S., Russian, French and Italian envoys
attended. Hifter and Saleh are allies.
There were no representatives of the
Tripoli-based administration, or of its main
backers, Turkey and Qatar, at the conference.
On Friday the GNA took Tarhuna, a city 40 miles
southeast of Tripoli. The 'Syrian rebels' immediately
started to loot the city. The move finally ends the
siege of Tripoli Hafter had held for 15 months.
Russia allegedly told the GNA to not move further to
the east and to stick to the ceasefire Haftar agreed to.
It wants Haftar to stay in control of the east. Russia
drew a line on Sirte, a city that covers the eastern oil
fields that will also create profit for Moscow. The Al-Jufra
Air Base, 150 miles south of Sirte, is also supposed to
stay under Haftar's control. The country would thereby
be partitioned in two halves.
But after the May 17 breakthrough the GNA and its
sponsors were felling empowered and were themselves
getting naughty ideas. Turkey suddenly
changed its war aims:
In light of the most recent developments, Turkey
identified a new objective in Libya. Ankara no
longer seeks to force Haftar to participate in
diplomatic negotiations. Instead, the new mission is
to put this source of instability, this murderer of
Tripoli’s civilian population, out of business.
The GNA government
conditioned its acceptance of the ceasefire:
Tripoli-based Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha said
the government side would engage in political talks
only after taking Sirte and also the inland Jufra
air base, to the south. The U.S. last month accused
Russia of deploying at least 14 aircraft at the base
to support Russian mercenaries backing Hifter, a
claim dismissed by Moscow.
Taking Sirte would open the gate for the
Tripoli-allied militias to press even farther
eastward, to potentially seize control of vital oil
installations, terminals and oil fields that tribes
allied with Hifter shut down earlier this year,
cutting off Libya’s major source of income.
Since Friday 'Syrian rebels' under Turkish command
are trying to take the LNA held Sirte. But suddenly the
airplanes recently delivered by Russia sprang into
action. Several GNA convoys which were moving towards
Sirte got smashed. Turkish drones are again
dropping from the sky.
Egypt has started to position heavy military
equipment on its western border. It does not want a
Muslim Brotherhood controlled Libya as its neighbor. The
buffer Haftar's LNA provides is a priority for its own
security. Egypt together with France, Greece, Cyprus and
the UAE also
rejected the Turkish aspirations in the eastern
If Russia would pull back its support and completely
give up on Haftar Egypt would see a necessity to
intervene in Libya. A Turkish-Egyptian war on Libyan
grounds would then become likely.
The U.S. has mostly stayed out of the current game.
But while it earlier seemed to lean towards Haftar it
recently voiced concern about the Russian role in Libya
and made some positive noises towards the GNA.
Europe is split on the issue with France and Greece
on the LNA's side while Italy leans towards the GNA.
This makes it impossible for the EU to play a bigger
Russia is trying to achieve in Libya the same
situation that it achieved in Syria (and Ukraine). It
wants to freeze the active conflict by pressing both
parties to stick to a line and by intervening only when
that line is crossed by either side. It will continue to
push for negotiations between the two conflict parties
and their sponsors.