How Can Turkey and Russia Resolve Their Differences Over Libya?

During a news conference in Moscow on Thursday, Alexey Zaytsev, deputy spokesman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, said that Russian and Turkish delegations will discuss the Libyan conflict and a possible ceasefire declaration. According to Zaytsev, the third round of consultations will be held in Moscow in the near future as the previous two rounds of consultations were held in Turkey. One was held in Istanbul in June and the other in Ankara in July.

This is a promising development, but if the third consultation goes ahead as planned, there are many obstacles that both countries need to overcome if they want to restore peace and stability to Libya.

The Libyan People Must Be Involved

If they want to avoid the mistakes that were made during the 2015 peace agreement in Morocco and the 2018 Paris summit, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan need to consult the Libyan people more. It is encouraging that Russian Ambassador Aleksei Erkho recently stated that a political solution to the conflict lies in the Libyan people themselves, and he is the first foreign official to recognize this. Thomas M. Hill of the US Institute of Peace believes that Libya’s citizens have played an active role in making peace a reality through initiatives like successfully convincing young people in the city of Misrata to quit the local militia. Therefore, both Ankara and Moscow should listen to the Russian Ambassador’s words if they want to end tensions in Libya.

Can Turkey Ease Tensions With Egypt?

Before Putin and Erdoğan have any hope of resolving their differences, Turkey should end its hostilities toward Egypt. Both Cairo and Moscow support the Libyan National Army (LNA) led by General Khalifa Haftar, whilst the Turkish President supports the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA). Egypt is anxious that the GNA seeks to regain control over the LNA-controlled city of Sirte, which is vital for control over the nation’s oil sector. At the end of July, Egypt sent soldiers to Syria’s northwestern Aleppo province, near Idlib. Some 150 Egyptian soldiers arrived in Aleppo’s rural areas, and some have been deployed in the city of Saraqib to the south of Idlib. This proves that as tensions between Turkey and Egypt escalate, the latter’s forces are arriving closer to Turkish borders. Because of this reason alone, the third consultation would need to proceed as soon as possible to prevent Ankara and Cairo from going to war.

Sirte is the Key to Peace Between Russia and Turkey

The problem Putin has going into the third consultation is that Erdoğan has the upper hand in the Libyan conflict. Since the start of June, increased Turkish support has allowed pro-GNA forces to seize control of northwest Libya, which devastated Haftar’s plans to occupy Tripoli. Equally, Sirte provides Russia with a bargaining chip during the third consultation as the city is a gateway to dominate the ports of Sidra, Ras Lanuf, Marsa al-Brega and Zuwetina, where three gas conduits and 11 oil pipelines reach the Mediterranean coast. Fehim Tastekin of Al-Monitor argues that Turkey could acquiesce to Russian control over the city of al-Jufra in exchange for Turkish control over Sirte.

If the third consultation is a success, another outstanding issue is the interest that the USA and France have in ending this conflict. Considering US President Donald Trump supports the GNA, this provides the latter with leverage as they have the world’s most powerful country on their side. Meanwhile, French President Emmanuel Macron backs the LNA. Both leaders could counter the influence Moscow and Ankara have in Libya, but it remains yet to be seen whether Putin and Erdoğan would want them to get involved, especially when you consider France’s recent dispute with Turkey and the USA’s lack of interest in Libya in general.

The Libyan war has been happening for far too long and many nations that have got involved in it have only made it worse. The third consultation seems hopeful, but there is a long way to go yet before peace is restored to Libya.