The German-Russian Treasure

Merkel negotiates with Putin over Libya. Berlin announces International Libya Conference

BERLIN/MOSCOW/TRIPOLI (Own report) - The German government can no longer implement important foreign policy projects in the Arab world without Russia's support, as the results of Saturday's negotiations between Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russia's President Vladimir Putin demonstrate. Moscow will, in principle, support the "Berlin Process", with which the German government would like to take on the role of an influential mediator in the Libyan war. Without Moscow, Berlin did not succeed in holding the International Libya Conference, which was designed to become the first highlight in the "Berlin Process." In the run-up to Merkel's Moscow visit, German foreign policy experts lavished unhabitual praise on the influence Russia has gained over the past few years. If you wanted to achieve anything in Syria, "you had to call Washington," according to Bijan Djir-Sarai, FDP foreign policy parliamentarian, "today you have to call Moscow." Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, member of the Bundestag (FDP) calls German Russian relations "a treasure."

The "Berlin Process"

German Chancellor Angela Merkel was seeking negotiations on Libya with President Vladimir Putin in the context of the German government's attempt to play the role of mediator in the Libyan war and to initiate an end to the conflict by organizing a major international conference in the German capital. Efforts to win influence - since some time referred to in official statements and proudly praised by the German foreign ministry already last September as the "Berlin Process" - have, so far, hardly gotten off the ground. The international conference had to be repeatedly postponed, ( reported [1]) due to Germany and the EU's lack of influence in Libya. In recent years, with few exceptions, the EU has mainly focused on taking measures in that country to ward off refugees. Therefore, other countries have gained influence, including Russia and Turkey, with each currently supporting one of the two main opposing factions: Ankara the "Government of National Accord" of Prime Minster Fayez al-Sarraj in Tripoli, Moscow its opponent Khalifa Haftar and his Libyan National Army (LNA).

Model "Astana Process"

Meanwhile Russia and Turkey are seeking to end the war, modeled on the development in Syria, where Moscow and Ankara have succeeded in ending combat in large sectors of the country within the framework of the "Astana Process." With the exception of the region around Idlib and the regions in Northern Syria under Turkish occupation, the war in Syria is winding down. There is a chance for a similar process in Libya, where Russia and Turkey respectively have influence on the two main warring parties. Wolfram Lacher, expert on Libya at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) believes that the success will depend on the extent to which Turkey is prepared to strengthen the "Government of National Accord", which has recently been defeated militarily - but only until a balance of power between the two armed forces can be achieved.[2] According to Lacher, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has suggested that this is Turkey's aim, by sending troops to Libya. If the Russian-Turkish efforts to end the war in Libya succeed, Moscow and Ankara could also hope to have significant influence after the war - as in Syria.

A Russian-Turkish Resolution

Last Wednesday, Presidents Putin and Erdoğan, who had come together in Istanbul to celebrate the opening of the TurkStream oil pipeline, agreed on a joint resolution pertaining to Libya, which included an appeal for a cease-fire that was to take effect yesterday.[3] Despite several minor violations on both sides, it was basically holding yesterday. However, it is still considered fragile.[4]

Where to Call

The German government is seeking to use the progress made by Moscow and Ankara, for success in its own "Berlin-Process." For this it needs Russia's support. Several of Germany's influential foreign policy makers have bluntly acknowledged as much in the run-up to Chancellor Merkel's negotiations in Moscow, last Saturday. "If you think of Syria, before one would usually call up Washington, to resolve such conflicts," explained the FDP foreign affairs parliamentarian, Bijan Djior-Sarai, "Today, you have to call Moscow. Without Russia, there will be no solution for the entire region."[5] The situation in the Middle East or in Libya are "themes in which Mr. Putin has a large influence," admitted Omid Nouripour, the foreign policy spokesperson for the Greens parliamentary group. Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, foreign policy spokesperson for the FDP parliamentary group, sees German-Russian relations as "a treasure." "There are such close German-Russian relations in so many fields that we, I believe, are closer to Russia than other western countries."[6]

Who Plays the Leading Role

Saturday, following his talks with Merkel, Putin declared that Russia is prepared to support the "Berlin-Process." Putin said that Moscow considers the German government's planned International Libyan Conference "to be timely." Merkel reported that she has "taken note of" his statement, "that we should hold such a conference in Berlin very soon."[7] Obviously there are remaining differences. For example, Putin would like to see Ghassan Salamé, UN Special Envoy for Libya, "play a role." Merkel, attempting to limit Russia's influence as much as possible, announced in Moscow, "[UN] General Secretary Guerres and UN Envoy, Salamé will have the main responsibility." Putin openly admitted that there are differences. "Several points still have to be ironed out." During the talks, it seems that Russia could rely on Turkey. Already on January 5, Turkish President Erdoğan announced that he would only agree to the Berlin Process if Russia participates. Given the military influence of both powers in Libya - the plan would be doomed to failure against Moscow and Ankara.

Whoever Achieves the Cease-Fire

In the meantime, hectic diplomatic activities around Libya have begun at EU level. At a meeting with Turkish President Erdoğan on Saturday, EU Council President Charles Michel welcomed the "constructive wording" of Wednesday's Russian-Turkish Resolution. His talks with Erdoğan revolved around "how the EU and Turkey could cooperate to de-escalate the situation in the Middle East and Libya."[8] On the other hand, Prime Minister of Libya's "Government of National Accord," Fayez al Sarraj, held talks with Italy's Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte in Rome. The attempt launched on Tuesday by German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, in collaboration with three of his European counterparts, to visit Tripoli for negotiations with Sarraj, did not materialize. Al Sarraj abruptly called off the meeting following the bombing of the military academy in Libya's capital by troops of Gen. Khalifa Haftar, thereby demonstrating the possible insecurity of the European guests.[9] Berlin and the EU are currently in no position to implement a cease-fire - contrary to Moscow and Ankara, at least, for the time being.


[1] See also The Three-Stage Berlin Process and Relegated to the Role of Spectator.

[2], [3] Amberin Zaman: Putin, Erdogan demand cease-fire in Libya. 08.01.2020.

[4] Rami Musa: Libya truce ongoing amid reports of violations by both sides. 12.01.2020.

[5] Kai Küstner: Merkel muss auf Putin setzen. 11.01.2020.

[6] Merkel hofft auf mehr humanitäre Hilfe in Syrien. 11.01.2020.

[7] Pressekonferenz von Bundeskanzlerin Merkel und dem Präsidenten von Russland, Wladimir Putin, in Moskau.

[8] Libyen-Konflikt: Türkei und Russland für Berlin-Prozess. 11.01.2020.

[9] Geopolitik macht Weihnachtsferien. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 09.01.2020.