Relegated to the Role of Spectator

EU powers warn of external interference in Libya. Russia and Turkey are contemplating a process to end the war

BERLIN/TRIPOLI | | libyen

BERLIN/TRIPOLI (Own report) - German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas warns against foreign countries interfering in Libya. "Continuing outside interference is fueling the crisis," according to yesterday's joint statement, signed by Maas and his counterparts from France, Italy, Great Britain and the EU's High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy, "to the detriment of the country's national interests." In 2011, France and Great Britain had been the driving forces behind the war on Libya. Germany and Italy have been intervening in the country for years - to ward off refugees. The sudden warning against foreign interference must be seen in the context of the fact that Russia and Turkey have gained a strong position within the country by cooperating with parties engaged in the civil war. Observers reported that, similar to the "Astana Process" in Syria, Moscow and Ankara are now seeking to end also the war in Libya - under Russian-Turkish leadership. This would be a further blow to Western hegemony. Berlin is trying to prevent this with its own International Libya Conference.

Joint Responsibility for War

Last year, the German government launched a new attempt to strengthen its influence in Libya, following the complete failure of its previous 2015/2016 attempt. At the time, Berlin had succeeded in having the German diplomat, Martin Kobler, appointed to the post of UN Special Envoy to Libya. Immediately after taking office on November 4, 2015, Kobler pushed through the establishment of a "Government of National Accord" in Tripoli, headed since March 15, 2016 by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj. However, Sarraj's power is still extremely limited. Initially he controlled little more than a few buildings in the port. That did not bother Berlin, because, as Wolfram Lacher, the expert on Libya at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) noted, western powers were primarily interested in having an "internationally recognized" "Government of National Accord" as their formal counterpart in Tripoli.[1] This was deemed necessary to legitimize the war against the IS bases in Libya at the time and also to take measures to ward off refugees. Berlin accepted the fact that al-Sarraj and his "Government of National Accord" had basically no power and would soon became easy prey for militias. In May 2018, Lacher succinctly stated, "Western governments and the UN bear joint responsibility for the situation in Tripoli."[2]

Russia's Influence

Drastic shifts in Libya's power constellations are the reason for Berlin's new activities. Russia has significantly enhanced its influence within the country. It is supporting Khalifa Haftar, warlord and commander of the Libyan National Army (LNA), which had been legitimated by the parliament, elected in June 2014, but forced by Islamist militias to flee the capital, establishing its headquarters in Tobruk, a town in eastern Libya. Haftar has the backing particularly of Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, both militarily and with arms. German military hardware has also reached Libya via the Emirates. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.[3]) Russia is supporting Haftar with spare parts for weapons, military training and meanwhile also with the deployment of mercenaries.[4]

Muslim Brotherhood Networks

Turkey has simultaneously intensified its activities in Libya. It is supporting Fayez al-Sarraj’s "Government of National Accord" also because of its ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, whose international networks are affiliated with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his AKP party. Ankara began extensive arms deliveries to the "Government of National Accord" in Tripoli after its rival Haftar had launched an offensive in April 2019 aimed at finally winning the war in Libya. He has not yet succeeded. Turkey is currently expanding its cooperation with Tripoli and has officially begun deploying soldiers in the Libyan capital on Sunday, with the objective of setting up an operational center for soldiers of the "Government of National Accord" and coordinate their activities.[5] According to reports, Turkish soldiers will also be conducting military training.

An "Astana Process" for Libya

Besides the fact that coinciding with the increase in Turkish and Russian influence, the European powers' influence is continuing to recede, a Turkish-Russian alignment of interests pertaining to Libya is beginning to surface. The Middle East specialized journal, Al Monitor, pointed to this development back in December, when it reported, quoting sources in the Russian Foreign and Defense ministries, that Moscow and Ankara are working on a potentially "important initiative" on Libya that may be launched at the next summit of the two presidents.[6] This summit will be held today in Istanbul for the official launching of the TurkStream gas pipeline. Al Monitor explains that the Syrian development will be the model, where, within the Astana framework, Moscow and Ankara were able to set the guidelines for ending the war, without the participation of the western powers, who had been the region's long-standing hegemons. It is reported that now, both countries are working on a similar solution for Libya. If they are successful, Russia and Turkey can be considered the Arab world's conflict mediator, thereby further chipping away at the West's hegemony. Al Monitor considers accordingly, that Moscow is perhaps less involved in the Libyan war, to seek to land Haftar a victory per se, but rather to secure leverage over decision-making in the conflict.[7] That would be the prerequisite for obtaining a position in Libya as the "conflict's mediator."

The "Berlin Process"

This is the backdrop to Berlin's attempt, last year, to position itself as a mediator in the Libyan war. September 11, the German ambassador in Tripoli announced that, during the fall, the German government would convene an "International Libya Conference" in Berlin to end the war in that country. This initiative is since referred to as the "Berlin Process." In preparation for the conference, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas visited Libya at the end of October and negotiated with Prime Minister al-Sarraj. For security reasons, the talks were not held in Tripoli, but rather in the coastal city of Zuwara, to the west of the capital. Nothing was made public about the contents of the talks. Maas had been forced to precipitously leave the country, due to rumors that an unidentified enemy flying object was about to attack.[8] The pompously announced Libya Conference has been postponed several times since.

Disadvantageous Interference

On Tuesday, Maas met in Brussels with his counterparts from France, Italy, Great Britain and the EU's foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, to discuss the developments in Libya. Prior to the meeting, insiders warned Berlin that Moscow and Ankara were relegating Berlin and Brussels to the "role of spectators" in Libya. This should not be permitted particularly because Russia and Turkey's greater influence in the North African country would also give them control over the migratory routes to the EU. Following their meeting, the foreign ministers and the EU's foreign policy chief published a joint statement. As representatives of countries, which have always politically interfered in Libya, they declared: "Continuing outside interference is fueling the crisis." In general, foreign influence is "to the detriment of the country's national interests."[9] "It was a very constructive discussion," Maas reported, his three counterparts and Borrell supported the "Berlin Process." The announced international conference on Libya should be convened this month.

Merkel in Moscow

Details are still unknown. However, Chancellor Angela Merkel will fly to Moscow on Saturday to negotiate with President Putin. As reported, the focus will not be on the escalation of the Iran conflict but the war in Libya. Unlike Berlin and Brussels, Moscow has real influence on developments within the country.

 

[1] "Große Gefahr, dass die Lage sich verschlimmert". www.deutschlandfunk.de 14.12.2015. See also Krieg um die Gegenküste.

[2] Wolfram Lacher: Das Milizenkartell von Tripolis. SWP-Aktuell Nr. 28. Mai 2018. See also Die nächste Runde im libyschen Krieg.

[3] See also Arab Brothers in Arms.

[4] Kirill Semenov: Will Russia, Turkey launch "Syria scenario" for Libya? al-monitor.com 03.01.2020.

[5] Türkei entsendet Soldaten. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 07.01.2020.

[6] Maxim A. Suchkov: Intel: How Russia and Turkey are eyeing new deals on Idlib and Libya. al-monitor.com 23.12.2019.

[7] Kirill Semenov: Will Russia, Turkey launch "Syria scenario" for Libya? al-monitor.com 03.01.2020.

[8] See also The Three-Stage Berlin Process.

[9] EU-Länder verurteilen ausländische Einmischung in den Libyen-Konflikt. afp.com 07.01.2020.