Russian-mediated Turkish-Libyan talks this week collapsed after all efforts to reach a compromise that leads to a ceasefire in Libya failed amid Turkish intransigence and Libyan army Chief General Khalifa Haftar’s refusal of Erdogan’s conditions and his sudden walk away from Moscow talks. This was met with renewed threats by the Turkish leader. Russia and Turkey have backed the two main adversaries in Libya, the GNA (Government of National Agreement) in Tripoli, and the Libyan National Army and eastern-based forces commander Gen. Haftar, also backed by Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. Turkey has dispatched hundreds of its Syrian proxy militia fighters to Tripoli and pledged to send thousands more along with Turkish troops and forces in support of the internationally-recognized GNA president, Fayez al Sarraj who was present at the Putin-orchestrated Moscow talks, which were arranged in preparation for the Berlin conference on Libya. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov reaffirmed that the talks over the Libyan peace deal will resume in Berlin on Sunday, and Germany appears determined to press ahead with Libya peace talks despite this week’s setback. Putin has received German Chancellor Angela Merkel this week for coordination regarding the Berlin event and other issues of mutual concern.
Can Turkey match Russia’s key role in Libya?
Despite falling short of a final deal for a permanent ceasefire, the mere bringing together of the two main warring parties in Libya for talks in Moscow is regarded by many as a diplomatic coup for president Putin who has skillfully leveraged a larger influence and key role for Russia in post-Qaddafi Libya. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has signed a strategic economic and military deal with GNA boss and close ally al Sarraj last month and pledged to send Turkish troops, navy and air force if asked to do so by Tripoli under the agreement which Erdogan managed to pass through a doctored vote in the Turkish parliament using his AK Party majority in the House.
Libya has been ravaged and ripped apart, its wealth of natural resources plundered by tribal feuds, extremist national and foreign terror groups as well as by external interference and intervention in the country, following the assassination of Colonel Gaddafi in October 2011 and the subsequent toppling of his entire regime, which ran supreme in the oil-rich nation for over 40 years.
Many regional and Western nations have strategic interests in Libya, both economically and geopolitically, most of them have a cold relationship with Erdogan, and often very little trust in the man, particularly after his intervention in Syria alongside extremist and terrorist groups, and against Syria’s Kurdish population in the northeastern parts of the country.
Conflicting interests: Syrian conflict and quagmire scenario revisited
Warning against a similar scenario in Libya, many analysts point out the fact that although Libya and Syria are two extremely different cases, there are some similarities in, and parallels with, the way an uneasy alliance of Turkey, Russia and Iran grabbed hold of the political negotiations in Syria, wresting the initiative from the US, Europe and the UN. Turkey, backed illicitly by the Trump administration – similarly to Washington’s green light withdrawal from norther bases and posts in Syria last October, and thus giving a green light for Erdogan to intervene militarily against Syrian Kurds-, is doing everything in its power to foil such schemes, or at least have its own share of the Libyan large cake by hook or by crook.
An outraged Erdogan lashed out at Haftar Tuesday following the latter’s unceremonious departure without signing a permanent peace deal at the Moscow meeting. He even threatened the Libyan general with military force if need be, to prevent him from capturing the capital Tripoli or toppling al Sarraj GNA government. How far can the Turkish leader go in making good on his commitments to Sarraj and threats to Haftar, remains to be seen. Adventurous Erdogan appears adamant to revive the old Ottoman empire, regardless of changing world order, massive challenges facing such a far-fetched expansionist project.
Keeping one leg in Syria, with plans to shift up to 8000 of his proxy fighters there to the quicksands of the Libyan theatre – up to 2000 pro -Turkish militiamen are reported to have already arrived in Libya, and at least four bodies of those killed in action were flown by Turks and buried in Syria last week-, and the other leg now in Libya, Erdogan continues his defiance of strong Turkish, Libyan, Pan-Arab (except for ally Qatar) and some Western nations’ objection to Turkish military intervention in Libya.
Turkey’s controversial economic deal with Sarraj, redefines economic zones, privileges and exploration rights and red lines in the Mediterranean. With fierce opposition by Egypt, Greece, Cyprus and many other nations of the Turkish unilateral step, Erdogan’s new adventures could have potentially sawed the seeds of a much-feared and uncalled for military confrontation in a region already plagued by more conflicts and tension than it can put up with.