The past week has seen a short-lived ceasefire between the warring Tripoli and Tobruk factions. It was never likely to last long, with General Haftar’s forces having captured Sirte just last week, and thus putting it in a prime position to launch a two-pronged military offensive on both Tripoli and Misrata. Italy is pushing for a political solution to the crisis, brokered by the UN, whilst Jordan’s King Abdullah has warned that Libya could turn into a “new Syria”. Given the considerable number of foreign powers involved in the conflict, and there being a higher proportion of countries from the neighbourhood being involved, his assessment is accurate. President Erdogan of Turkey has stated that his country will be sending troops to Libya, which will join the handful of advisors and training officers which are already in the country, although what their role will be remains unclear.
The collapse of the ceasefire is not good news for Malta. The battlelines may not have changed over the past week, but Haftar is in a good position militarily to launch an offensive from a geographical standpoint.
CiConsulta Geopolitics Risk Assessmen – Global risk level – Low, but increasing.
CiConsulta Geopolitics Risk Assessment on Malta – MEDIUM – Stable
Russia-Turkey: The Unlikely Partnership
One of the major developments in Libya is happening outside of the war stricken country.
Russia is trying to regain its the superpower status of the Soviet era, be it economically, politically or militarily. It is doing so in small but sure steps. The days of super summits organised by the United States to try to resolve some world issues today seem a distant memory.
In Syria, for instance, the shots were called by Russia and, more recently, in the Libyan quagmire once more it was Moscow that took the initiative. Russia found the helping hand of Turkey in both situations, a NATO member under the leadership of Tayyip Erdogan.
This cooperation fills a void that has been left open by the European Union, which has so far not managed to come up with a determined and credible foreign policy agenda to be the driving force to resolve the turmoil on its doorstep.
But division among European countries has failed to bring an end to the increasingly bloody nine-month assault on Tripoli by Haftar.
Italy, once seen as the main decision-maker in Libya, has been trying to recover lost ground, with only scant success so far. Meanwhile, the new European Commission has been trying to play a greater role, but the rug has been pulled from under its feet by the more forceful Russia and Turkey which have a much greater drive and interest to see that they succeed.
It’s not that the US has totally withdrawn from the world stage, but its long-lamented role of world policeman has now come home to roost.
Russia has been quick to move into a de facto powerbroker role in the region after President Donald Trump announced he would pull out more than 1000 US troops who have, until now, backed Kurdish-Syrian forces in the fight against the ISIS. A role where the American participation was crucial.
Even in Libya, the United States has been very active in suppressing ISIS activities, although with less fanfare than in the past.
Vladimir Putin pulled off a significant diplomatic coup by arranging a mini-summit in Moscow between the two sides in Libya’s long-running civil war.
The Moscow meeting between the two Libyan antagonists was not their first, but it was the first direct meeting since Khalifa Haftar launched his attack on Tripoli, which has been denounced by the Tripoli government as a war crime.
The two Libyan leaders have previously met face to face in Abu Dhabi and in Paris to sign various peace agreements that have eventually fallen apart.
The diplomatic jockeying over Libya, which was once part of the Ottoman empire, is important because the country credited with finally bringing peace to Libya is likely to benefit in terms of diplomatic prestige and even future contracts. Russian energy companies signed contracts with Libya’s National Oil Corporation for exploration while Turkish companies, which moved into Libya aggressively after the ouster of Gadhafi, are owed millions of dollars.
Also, towards the end of 2019, Erdogan signed memorandums with the Tripoli government on security cooperation and maritime boundaries. The latter agreement, which the European Union says violates international law, secured in principle oil deposits in the Mediterranean Sea for Turkey. The memorandums between the GNA and Ankara raised alarm in Moscow.
Although Libya and Syria are very different cases, there are some parallels with the way this uneasy alliance of Turkey, Russia and Iran in the background grabbed hold of the political negotiations in the case of Syria, wresting the initiative from the US, Europe and the UN.
The strange alliance
Both Russia and Turkey have invested much in Libya, where they are each supporting opposing parties, particularly in the case of Ankara because of its wide-ranging commercial interests.
The Turko-Russian initiative for Libya appears to have faltered after Haftar ignored pleas for a ceasefire and left Moscow without signing any agreement. At the same time, while Italy is upping the ante, Germany will press ahead with a Libya peace conference on Sunday even though talks in Moscow ended fruitlessly.
The aim of the Berlin conference is to secure a collective pledge by external actors to end their interference in the country by refusing to send troops, arm the militia or fly drones that have caused mass casualties.
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