Turkey’s strategy in Libya should be seen as a part of its wider African strategy, according to Turkish history professor Barin Kayaoglu. Libya is not the only place where Turkey is active. Kayaoglu recalls a plan concocted by Turkey’s foreign ministry regarding Africa in 1998 that drew little attention at the time, but seems to have been adopted by Erdogan and the AK Party since. It includes spreading Turkish influence throughout Africa by means of state building, security assistance, spreading Turkish commercial connections and infrastructure and an educational network.
One success of this is Turkey having become Somalia’s “big brother”, after it helped the country overcome famine in 2011 and assisted in the reconstruction effort. Turkey today maintains its largest foreign military base in Mogadishu where it trains a significant portion of Somalia’s national military. Turkey also maintains a Red Sea port in Sudan and is active in the UN’s anti-piracy efforts around the horn of Africa.
Turkish trade with Africa stands at around $20 billion today, only a small part of its roughly $400 billion in global trade, but a massive increase from a decade ago. However Turkey maintains 4 free trade agreements in Africa and is working on securing additional ones. Even its main rival, Egypt, is also its largest trade partner on the continent, showing that Turkey knows how to juggle trade and regional rivalries rather well. The AKP, according to Kayaoglu, seems content on its African strategy as a part of Turkish overall economic and diplomatic growth. Turkey has opened a dozen embassies on the continent and Turkish Airlines has flights to every major African city and every capital. Turkey is also taking advantage of highly educated English and French speaking African migrants, and is working to change immigration laws to allow them to integrate into and boost the Turkish economy.
In many ways, Kayaoglu points out, Turkey is taking a page out of China’s global expansion playbook, which itself now has over 40 bilateral free trade agreements in Africa. Despite the many challenges to this strategy, especially given the lack of proper financial infrastructure in Africa, Turkey is moving ahead with Africa, and its Libya efforts should be seen as a part of this.
We will add that Turkey also sees Libya as a part of its previous Ottoman-era holdings, adding an element of historical and nostalgic connection.
What does this mean for Libyans? What does this mean for other international and regional powers involved? It means that Turkey's cost-benefit analysis employed as it considers its moves related to Libya are fare more entrenched and complex than other actors, perhaps. If Turkey indeed views its long-term economic and foreign affairs future in the African continent, the Libyans themselves and the Western powers involved have to carefully consider Turkey's strengths and weaknesses. Where can Turkish potential be useful? How much can Turkey be pressured to reduce its military involvement.
Such a view opens up as many questions as it does answers that the other parties involved in Libya would be wise to take into consideration as they move forward.
Two weeks ago Russian President Putin invited the heads of the two warring parties in Libya to initiate a cease-fire jointly-sponsored with Turkey ahead of the Berlin conference. This was a part of Putin’s plans to edge out the Europeans and Americans in Libya and carve out a bigger role for Russia (and Turkey) when the fighting stops. According to Bloomberg news, Putin did not take into account Haftar’s legendary stubbornness. Having sat in a waiting room in Russia’s foreign ministry, rather than receiving a presidential welcome, Haftar reportedly lost his temper, refused to sign the cease fire document and left for Amman.
Thinking he can coerce his supposed proxy into falling in line, Putin may have underestimated Haftar’s confidence and just how unpredictable the Libyan conflict as become.
Putin is said to be losing his tolerance for Haftar. According to Kirill Semyonov, a Russian expert on foreign affairs, “This won’t be forgotten by Putin…Haftar practically ran away when he was expected to sign the document. This showed a lack of respect to his hosts and is a blow to Russia’s reputation.”
Although relatively minor actors in Syria and Libya when those conflicts began, Russia and Turkey have managed to take over, or at least carve out significant roles for themselves, edging out a disinterested US and uncommitted and divided Europe. Sometimes coordinated and sometimes adversarial, the two have shown they can work together to secure their interests in a changing region. Bringing a peace deal to Libya will secure much prestige for both countries and billions in energy and reconstruction and infrastructure projects.
However these plans seem to be stalled and delayed by the various competing interests in Libya also. The Bloomberg article notes that Arab and Western diplomats familiar with Haftar and Libya are not surprised. Haftar has, time and again, shown himself to be unpredictable and often a destabilizing force, such as when he launched his move for Tripoli during a visit by the UN and ahead of scheduled peace talks.
The question is, will Putin and Erdogan allow him to get away with this? Haftar was useful to Russian interests so long he played his role and could serve as a strong leader in the midst of the chaos. However, now Haftar seems to be upending Putin and Erdogans plans – whereby the two edge out the Europeans and push for a ceasefire in which they are dominant, much as they did in Syria.
The surprising Turkish- Russian ceasefire announcement was reportedly, a surprise. The sides did not consult with the Libyans themselves, nor with the UAE, Egypt, the UN or any of the parties involved. Only later did the two work to get everyone on board, but this had little success. Most of the parties are aware of what Turkey and Russia are trying to achieve. Only the GNA and Sarraj play along due to their desperation for allies and arms. Sarraj’s backing for Turkey’s eastern-Mediterranean moves are linked to this.
Russia seems to have over-estimated its ability to influence Haftar and the conflict, for now. A few outcomes can result:
Despite the bluster and posturing in recent weeks, including pushing forth a controversial bi-lateral agreement to send troops to Libya, there are signs Erdogan actually may be seeking a diplomatic way forward rather than a military one.
Erdogan has accused Haftar of pushing the conflict and breaking the ceasefire multiple times. Most recently, Erdogan noted about Haftar “he says he agreed to a cease-fire but two days subsequent he bombed the airport. So how can we trust him?”.
Erdogan insists on continuing to support the GNA, despite the UN embargo, claiming Turkey is training the GNA’s forces only. "Our soldiers are there to assist in the training [of GNA forces]. We have a history of 500 years, and we have an invitation [from the GNA] that gives us our right," he added. Turkey’s defence minister Aktar has also noted that the main goal of Turkey’s forces is training, and that there are only a few dozen in the country. Aktar and Erdogan did not mention, of course, Turkey having sent some 2000 Syrian mercenaries to Libya in recent weeks.
Many were initially concerned that Turkey’s increased military involvement could trigger a wider regional conflict, especially with Turkey’s traditional regional rival Egypt, which happens to back rival Haftar and the LNA. Erdogan’s initial comments seemed especially bellicose, mostly his vowing to “teach Haftar a lesson” should he break the ceasefire. However, military experts, including from Turkey, have pointed out that Turkey actually has only a limited capability to send significant combat forces, given that it is 2000 km away, given the lack of Turkish allies en-route, and that its forces are already stretched thin in Syria and Iraq. Moreover, were Turkey to begin taking casualties, it would make the move even more unpopular domestically.
All this, and given Haftar’s current military superiority and Turkey’s increasing regional isolation, it only makes sense that Erdogan is quietly changing his tone from war to diplomacy. His challenge now will be to convince other regional and international powers to change their tune from backing Haftar to pressuring him. However, Erdogan might find some difficulty in achieving this challenge, showing perhaps, just how much the other regional powers are wary of growing Turkish (and Russian) influence in the region.
Analysts Borzou Daragahi and Bel Trew write that the contrast between Haftar’s “vast ambitions” and “limited capabilities” are the “key stumbling block” to bringing the Libya war to a close. Haftar, they point out, presents himself as the one who forged a national army and as the only man who can bring order to a fractured country. However, as Haftar as himself admitted, “I don’t control all the groups under me”, when confronted with reports of prisoner executions.
Some experts familiar with Haftar suggest that he is not serious about the political process and may be “merely playing for time”, building his power and international backing until he can fully take over all of Libya. Former US envoy to Libya Jonathan Winer remarks that “Haftar has had every opportunity to help Libya form unified security institutions united to counter terrorism and provide stability… he rejected every opportunity to do this and its clear that his goal is conquest…he wants to replace Gaddafi as dictator and name one of his sons as successor”. Winer was severely critical of Haftar’s move to cut off Libyan oil exports as “blackmailing” his country. He said that Haftar wont’ be able to hold Tripoli, the people won’t agree to be ruled by a dictator.
According to an aid, Haftar’s terms to cease fighting are nothing less than a total surrender by the GNA. Haftar has also said multiple times he has no political ambitions. “He has refused to be president, he has said repeatedly at 77 he is too old and Libya should be led by a young man”.
Yet, Haftar has been described as a “military man who tolerates little dissent” and who “idolises al-Sisi”… and who “doesn’t believe in democratic processes”. He is thought to aim to want to control all of Libya. If Haftar wanted to end the conflict, he could have. He has already humiliated hosts in France, Italy and most recently Russia, by walking out without signing a cease-fire agreement, angering his patron Putin.
Foreign powers are starting to realise this, and might even be viewing Haftar less for what he promises and more for what he seems to be able to deliver, and his grandiose desires to take over the entire country.
The New York Times describes how due to the increasing involvement of regional powers in Libya, Europe has “suddenly woken” to the new “Great Game” that developed on its doorstep and is “belatedly paying attention”. However, Europe will have a hard time reestablishing influence, as multiple powers “jockey” for “potential oil and gas bonanzas”, according to the paper.
Ian Lesser of the German Marshall Fund, a regional expert, pointed out that there has been a “major reawakening of geopolitical interest in Libya”. Lesser added that Europe’s interests in Libya relate to “issues of migration, energy, security and counter terrorism… But it is just as much about the geopolitics of relations with Russia and Turkey. If they had not been so assertive, Libya would not have attracted such attention now.”
Europe’s new senior foreign policy representative, Josep Borrell reflected to a large extent the EU’s new approach on Libya. In an interview with Der Spiegel, Borrell suggested that EU countries could potentially help support the cease-fire by providing troops – something that Italy and Greece and suggested. Separately, the UK also suggested it could provide peace-keeping troops as part of a combined EU force. Borell pointed out repeatedly the potential dangers of Turkey’s increased involvement. He noted “Nobody will be very happy if, on the Libyan coast, there is a ring of military bases from the Russian and Turkish navies in front of the Italian coast.” He went on to say that Europe can’t “barricade ourselves” as if there is “no military solution”
However, is it too late for Europe to establish influence? Kristina Kausch, also of the German Marshall Fund, claims that “its too late and we’re out of the picture” as Russia and some regional powers have replaced Europe “in our own neighbourhood”.
Analyst Claudia Gazzini of the International Crisis Group explains that the EU had primarily viewed Libya through a prism of the migrant crisis, and only recently sought to become involved again due to Russian and Turkish involvement. However the lack of unity between the EU powers hampers these efforts, especially France and Italy, who for narrow interests back the opposite sides of the conflict. Gazzini points out that Borrell has brought much needed new thinking and “renewed energy and willingness” to involve Europe positively in the Libyan crisis.
The US has also been relatively limited in the conflict since helping defeat ISIS in 2016. The US primarily renewed its involvement and push for a cease fire recently since Russia increased its activity and introduced proxies to back Haftar.
For many of the international players, obtaining access to profits from oil and gas is a key consideration, and directly linked to the energy reserves and interests in the Eastern Mediterranean. For the EU to establish itself, it will have to commit, including possibly to using force, which it doesn’t seem willing to do at the moment. At this point, it is worth watching to see if the Berlin Summit was a turning point for EU involvement in Libya. As the authors point out, Europe is certainly capable, the only question is if it is willing.
The various foreign powers involved in Libya's conflict met in Berlin Sunday (Jan 19) for the much awaited conference, intended to coordinate the international community's efforts to bring an end to the ongoing civil war in Libya.
The meeting was hosted by Germany, and attended by the leaders or senior representatives from Russia, Turkey, the UAE and Egypt – who most directly back the various sides, as well as France, Italy, the United Kingdom, the United States, Algeria who represented the Arab League, Congo representing the African Union, the European Union and the United Nations.
While there was much anticipation surrounding the meeting, it was not immediately clear what was achieved and what was meant to be achieved. We look at what happened in Berlin, what did not happen and what we can expect going forward.
Last week, and for the first time since intense fighting renewed in April, the GNA's al-Sarraj and LNA's Haftar agreed to an initial ceasefire, brokered by Russia and Turkey, although reports are rife that this was already broken. Already, Turkish troops and Syrian mercenaries continue to make their way to Tripoli, while Haftar supporters blocked oil export facilities in LNA held territory, effectively cutting Libyan government revenues in half as production halted to around 800,000 bpd.
What was on the table? What was achieved?
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who hosted the UN-backed summit, sought to get the powers involved on the same page, especially in regards to enforcing the UN arms embargo on Libya. One of the major criticisms levelled at Europe is that their lack of coordination and engagement in Libya has opened the door for Russia, Turkey and other regional actors to increase their influence. World powers indeed walked away from the conference after agreeing not to provide military support to either side and back a political solution. However, Merkel was “not under any illusion that this won’t be a difficult path”.
Egypt and the UAE, Haftar's main international backers, reportedly urged him to agree to the initial deal. The two countries also called for the UN to sanction any actor who violates the embargo. US secretary of state Pompeo met with the UAE foreign minister, to pressure the UAE to end its interference, while German Chancellor Merkel met with the crown prince.
The immediate result of the conference was getting the participating parties to sign on to a 55-point communique. It called "on all parties concerned to redouble their efforts for a sustained suspension of hostilities, de-escalation and a permanent ceasefire". This would build on to a fragile and somewhat broken cease fire process kicked off already a week ago by Russia and Turkey.
According to the agreement, obtained by CNN and AFP, the parties called upon the UN Security Council to impose sanctions on those violating the ceasefire arrangements, and called on UN member states to help enforce the terms. It also affirmed the states' commitment to refrain from interfering in the conflict, and on the warring parties to refrain from attacking Libya's oil facilities and energy infrastructure.
German Chancellor Merkel, announcing the outcome after hours of discussion, said the parties “"agreed on a comprehensive plan forward... all participants worked really constructively together.... we all agree that we should respect the arms embargo and that the arms embargo should be controlled more strongly than it has been in the past". Previously, Merkel had said getting everyone on board the embargo would be the priority of the summit. Merkel also called for a mechanism to ensure the fair distribution of oil revenues as part of the peace process.
Beyond committing to supporting the arms embargo and cease fire, the parties also committed to recognising the Libyan state oil firm NOC as the sole entity that can deal in Libyan crude oil.
The agreement further called for a demobilisation and disarming of militias, spurring talks to form a single government, establishing a group of economic experts to advise on development and preparing for free elections to endorse the new government. A commission would also be formed to track progress on these matters.
Analyst Wolfram Lacher pointed out that the “conference is trying to...get an agreement between the states meddling in Libya to stop their support of the warring parties...the problem is Western states are not ready to put pressure on Haftar's foreign supporters...so the promises...ring hollow”. The ICG's Claudia Gazzini added that the conference “could be a modest step forward.” Gazzini noted that the conference “was useful in showing that Europe... (is) more engaged on...Libya... and...more keen to liaise with regional powers directly involved in the conflict in order to pressure them to de-escalate”. She wonders whether this would be “sufficient to de-escalate the conflict,” and whether the foreign powers that back the conflict will adhere to their commitments. Gazzini stressed it was important to see “tangible changes” that can get the fragile process to move forward.
The communique's conclusions will be sent to the UN Security Council to adopt, however the agreement will in essence remain a “gentleman's agreement” without language that would impose sanctions on those who violate its commitments.
If the two sides agree, the next phase would be an inter-Libyan process to unite the country's split institutions and begin preparing for elections, not held since 2014. One of the main outcomes of the day was the agreement to establish a ceasefire mechanism, in which each side is to nominate 5 representatives who will meet in Geneva by months' end to work out the terms for a more permanent cease fire agreement.
However, analyst Tarek Megerisi of the European Council on Foreign Relations pointed out that “failure to make progress could undermine the process”. He added that if “its a very negative meeting.... we can probably expect a return to violence.”
International Monitoring Force
UK prime minister Boris Johnson raised the possibility of sending British and European forces to monitor the proposed ceasefire and uphold the arms embargo. The Italian and German defence ministers similarly expressed willingness to do so if there is a clear UN mandate to do so.
The language of the agreement did not specifically mention a peace monitoring force but did mention establishing technical committees to monitor the cease fire components.
Reactions from the Warring Libyan Parties
Fayez Al-Sarraj and Khalifa Haftar were in Berlin as well but were not a part of the talks, nor did they meet with each other. German FM Heiko Maas worked as an intermediary between the two.
GNA Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha said the GNA would not consider a more permanent ceasefire agreement unless the LNA withdraws its fighters from Tripoli, dismantles its militias and ensures the departure of foreign mercenaries currently fighting on its side. Alternatively, Haftar demanded the GNA disband its militias and cancel the two agreements signed weeks ago with Turkey.
Reactions from Participants
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who attended the meeting, told reporters later he “cannot stress enough the summit’s conclusion that there is no military solution to the conflict”. Guterres questioned the motives of the various actors interfering in Libya, and noted that those who interfere to support the UN peace process are welcome to become involved. However those seeking to disrupt or support continued fighting “are not welcome”.
Russian President Putin expressed hope that “dialogue will continue and the conflict will be solved”. His foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, who was also in Berlin, described the talks as “rather useful” and noted the progress the sides made since their meeting in Moscow the week before. However, Lavrov pointed out that it is "clear that it is not yet possible to establish a stable serious dialogue between them. The differences in approaches are too great."
Turkish President Erdogan accused the international community of backing Haftar and offering him impunity as he conducts “brutal attacks”, and ignoring the “actions of the putschist Haftar... which have been violating UNSC resolutions”.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who represented the US, called on the Libyan parties to “seize this opportunity”. The US has somewhat increased its limited role in Libya in recent months, out of concern for Russia's growing influence. Pompeo said that “all foreign forces should be out of Libya”. He added that "This is a region-wide conflict that is broadening and looking increasingly like Syria which is why the whole community the international community is getting together in Germany". Pompeo however said the US was moderating its expectations.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson offered to deploy British troops to monitor a potential ceasefire, if the parties agreed to it. Johnson noted "there is a case for us doing what we do very well, which is sending people, experts to monitor the ceasefire”. However, Johnson did not see the viability of reaching a cease fire at the moment. Johnson said “its time now to move on and bring Libya together under the UN”.
French President Emanuel Macron raised “acute concerns over the arrival of Syrian and foreign fighters” and called to end this.
German foreign minister Maas, who acted as a go-between for the two Libyan leaders, urged the participants to ensure “Libya doesn't become a second Syria” and described the conference as a “first step to peace for Libya
What the conference did not achieve
There are two main elements that were not achieved in Berlin. The first is any kind of binding document regarding the international participants. That is, although there was a call to sanction those who violated the arms embargo or those who helped break the ceasefire, there is no obligatory sanctions mechanism in place to uphold it.
Secondly, the conference did not achieve anything binding regarding the Libyan parties themselves. The agreement expects the two sides to establish a mechanism to continue the peace talks in the coming days (5+5). However the two parties must first either sign on to the Russian-Turkish document (which only Serraj did) or the Berlin document. Until then, it is more of a gentleman's agreement, according to Khaled Butou on Twitter, than any real agreement. Butou points out that there are currently no deadlines, timetable or sanctions if any party, international or local, is found to be violating its terms.
It is important to point out, as we have multiple times in recent days, that the major achievement of the Berlin meeting, as much as we can point to one, is getting the major international players in one place to discuss a way forward on Libya. Some of the actors' behaviour has been destructive (Turkey, Russia, Egypt, the UAE) while the Europeans, Americans, Arab League and African Union have been apathetic and uncoordinated. Therefore, pressuring some to fall in line and others to pick up their game can be seen as an achievement, at least to some extent.
Clearly the Berlin meeting, which comes on the heels of the Moscow meeting, is just a beginning and hopes should not be too high. However, one of the main obstacles to achieving a cease-fire and renewed political process has been increasing foreign involvement. Getting enough pressure from a united international community is crucial – pressure on the Libyan parties to return to the table, pressure on the main foreign backers to cease their military support, and pressure on the Europeans and Americans to increase their diplomatic involvement.
While Serraj and the GNA might be desperate for a cease fire, despite Turkey's entrance, Haftar might still feel like he has the upper hand at this point. The Europeans and the US, backed by the Arab League, will have to convince him that a political process is preferable to continued fighting. They will also need to pry Haftar from Russia's growing grip on the conflict. Getting Haftar to cooperate might be more difficult than expected. There are numerous reports of his stubbornness so far to cooperate with the diplomatic process.
The GNA's clear lack of authority and hold on power, combined with Haftar's unwillingness to cooperate might be a clear sign that the way forward politically will not be either the GNA or Haftar, rather a third figure that can work to unite all Libyans, with backing from the signatories of the Berlin agreement. Despite that everyone in the room might agree with this understanding, it was also obvious that nobody seemed to bring up such a possibility in their remarks. Nine years of conflict are more than enough. As we enter 2020, the European and international powers involved should be would be wise to think ahead at new and creative ways to bring an end to Libyan tragedy, and bring some much needed stability to the region.
The world, or at least the region, will collectively turn its eyes to Berlin this Sunday (Jan 19) as a collection of countries and international organisations meet to coordinate an end to the ongoing Libyan civil war.
Diplomats from European and Arab capitals are working to put together a "road map", to be presented and discussed at the UN-sponsored conference, which will include representatives from 14 countries.
The conference will seek to reach a coordinated international and regional effort on Libya's political, economic and military future, and get some momentum behind the efforts led so far by UN special envoy to Libya Ghassan Salame. The conference will include forming committees to help implement some of the decisions that will be reached, and will include representatives from the various participant countries. Among these are host German chancellor Merkel, Russian president Putin, Turkish president Erdogan, French president Macron, Egyptian president al-Sisi, British prime minister Johnson, Algerian president Tebboune, US secretary of state Pompeo, and representatives from the UAE, Tunisia, Italy, the UN, EU and African Union. GNA prime minister al-Sarraj and LNA chief Haftar are also expected to attend. Notably, Greece, which asked to be invited to the conference and is at odds with Turkey and now the GNA over the maritime border declaration, was not invited.
The meeting comes just a week after al-Sarraj and Haftar met in Moscow at the behest of Putin and Erdogan to kick off a cease fire.
According to a draft of the road map, obtained by Asharq al-Awsat, a committee will be formed comprised of 14 representatives of the Libyan parliament, 14 representatives of the state council and 14 various influential political figures. The committee will attempt to form a new government and prepare the country for elections. The road map reportedly also calls to nominate 10 military figures, 5 from each side, to dismantle the militias and unite the military.
Economically, the road map is said to address the correct management of Libya's energy resources and the role of the central bank. A committee of various representative countries might be formed to monitor the ceasefire.
This will not be the first time the international community has brought together the warring sides to try and end the conflict. It is important, therefore, to enter the conference with a realistic sense of what can be achieved and what must be achieved. While many will undoubtedly focus on maintaining the fragile and already cracking ceasefire, the international participants would be wise to focus on coordinating their efforts better in regard to this conflict. Even within the EU, there is too much division as to how the EU should be involved and which side it should back. The more unity and coordination that can be achieved, the more effective the various countries can be down the road. Pressuring the various countries that supply arms and mercenaries would be a good place to start.
It is too soon to expect more than a temporary and fragile ceasefire. However, as we approach the Berlin conference this Sunday, the various foreign powers should focus their efforts on coordinating and ensuring a unified strategy and policy regarding how to end this conflict.
Analyst Simon Schofield of the London based Human Security Centre warns that “Turkey’s tightrope could finally snap in Libya”.
Schofield describes Turkey’s strategy as Neo-Ottoman, aggressively pursing an expansionist foreign policy, including the benefits of a partnership with Russia while at the same time trying to reap the benefits of its NATO membership. However, this expansionism, flirtation with Russia and escalation in Libya could end up harming Turkey's position. It was also what led the Netherlands to suspend Turkey’s article 5 privileges. Although Netherlands prime minister Mark Rutte described Turkey as “one of the strongest NATO members” crucial to NATO “geopolitically" and "strategically”, Rutte’s coalition partners voted in favour of two anti-Turkey motions recently – the first calling to support the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in Kurdish Syria, and the other rejecting a Turkish invocation of article 5 so long as Turkey conducts operations against the SDF.
In response to Turkey’s military push into Rojava (Syria), Norway and the Netherlands also suspended arms exports to the fellow NATO member.
According to Schofield, rather than working with NATO, Turkey seems to prefer developing “limited partnerships of convenience” with Russia and Iran in Syria, Qatar in Libya, and Venezuela, as well as expanding its influence through connecting to and supporting Muslim Brotherhood governments and parties, and Jihadist groups, from Syria to Libya. Schofield explains all these as having “zero interest” in ending conflicts, and that they “thrive on chaos and destruction”.
However, in showing a preference for “transactional” relationships with rogue actors and only “paying lip service” to its official allies, Turkey is walking a “tightrope act” that could end badly, especially in Libya.
Turkey seems to have an ideological connection to the Muslim Brotherhood elements that make up the “crumbling” GNA. Turkey also has clear economic interests in Libya, and Turkey is dependent on the survival of the GNA to prop up its bold move to stake out the exclusive economic zone in the Eastern Mediterranean. Turkey’s claim to these energy reserves depends on the GNA’s survival, and so it announced its troops deployment, including bringing in Syrian militants.
However, as the LNA, backed by Russian mercenaries seized Sirte, and could make a move on Misrata, especially if the ceasefire talks break down, Turkish mercenaries could end up having to face off against Russian ones. Schofield wonders whether the Erdogan – Putin meeting in Ankara last week that led to the ceasefire push reflected more of a “gentleman’s agreement to divide the spoils” or Putin telling “Erdogan that he should back down”.
Schofield concludes that the manner in which events will unfold will depend on the nature of the Turkish-Russian relationship – and how quickly the cooperation will break down once interests diverge and Turkey finds itself increasingly alone in the region without real allies.
Schofield makes an important point - Turkey may soon find itself alone and vulnerable, having alienated its traditional allies and abandoned by its new "friends of convenience."
We will add a point that we have made before on this site: the GNA - in backing Turkey's Eastern-Med move and accepting (or asking?) for Turkish military support also seems to have alienated itself regionally. Essentially, the GNA may also be walking down a tightrope that could snap. As the major European and regional powers meet in Berlin this weekend to discuss their future involvement in Libya, this is a key point that should be raised. The GNA may be too beholden to a Turkey that has become a point of regional instability. At the same time, Haftar has also not shown himself to be a figure that can bring much needed stability.
The coming days and weeks will teach us a lot of an ambitious Turkey over-reached, and if a desperate GNA grasped at a tight-rope that is set to snap for help.
Was the Russian-Turkish Ceasefire Coordinated with the EU? Or was phase two of the plan to nudge out the Europeans just enacted?
This past Thursday, after a bilateral meeting in Ankara, Turkish President Erdogan and Russian President Putin surprisingly called for a ceasefire in Libya, to come into effect early Sunday morning. At the same time, Italian prime minister Conte, after holding meetings with both Serraj and Haftar in Rome, called for an EU-led cease fire.
So far, Sunday mid-day, despite a few reports of continued fighting, the sides have said hey would abide by the cease-fire. Even if it eventually breaks, this is the first time in nearly eight months that there has been positive movement toward a political solution.
A major question looms here however, was this Turkish – Russian move coordinated with the EU? Or alternatively, was this the second phase of a larger move to nudge out the Europeans for influence in resource-rich strategic Libya?
First, as we have alluded to multiple times, it never really made sense for Turkey to escalate its military involvement with Russia have previously chosen to back Haftar, given Russia’s dominant position in Syria which is far more important for Turkey. Therefore, it came as no surprise that shortly after the Turkish announcement that it was increasing its military backing for the GNA, we learned Putin would be going to Ankara to meet with Erdogan to discuss Libya, among other regional matters. And, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the two announced their push for a cease-fire shortly after.
However, this cease-fire, led by Turkey and Russia, makes no strategic sense for Europe. The various foreign powers involved in Libya are essentially competing for influence for the day-after. That is, when the fighting finally stops and a new government is formed, much will be had to gain for the dominant foreign power, in terms of energy and infrastructure contracts, and influence over a massive coast-line in the middle of the Mediterranean. For the Europeans, there is the added element of illegal migrants, something the Russians might want to use in the future to pressure Europe.
Turkey’s sudden escalation of commitment, which comes just a few months after Russia’s escalation in the form of mercenaries, does not seem to be accidental, and Italy and the EU’s renewed push for a cease-fire therefore does not seem to be coordinated.
In essence, this is the very Russian-Turkish move to edge out the Europeans (and Americans) for increased influence in Libya that we predicted Russia was building already weeks ago. The two are vying for influence and resources with European powers like France and Italy playing what seems to be a complex game of geopolitical chess, Russia and Turkey came to become among the main foreign powers backing the opposing sides of the conflict. With Turkey, this was easier, since the EU and international community only officially support the GA, but no other major power backs them militarily (save for Italy’s coast guard support to halt the flow of immigrants). In the case of the LNA, Russia’s backing, while influential, still pales in comparison to what the UAE and Egypt currently provide.
The timing also doesn’t make sense if this was a coordinated move. The EU certainly also wants a cease-fire, but must ensure it is central to the process. Only Germany’s role, which never seemed to be jockeying for a day-after position, makes sense here. Germany wishes to host the Berlin conference, and therefore it seems to matter little to Berlin who is more influential over the process.
The EU, together with the US, should be wary of a cease-fire process dominated by Turkey and Russia. The two seem far more interested in controlling Libya’s resources than they do in improving the situation on the ground and creating stability. Strengthening their regional position is also crucial to Turkey’s, and by extension Russia’s move to block Greece- Cyprus- Israel – Egypt from establishing the gas pipeline in the Eastern Mediterranean.
If this theory pans out, as we predicted some weeks ago, then surely it would make far more sense for the EU, especially at this time, to push for a neutral third-party to govern a united Libya, one not beholden to either side. This seems to be the only sure-fire way to make sure Turkey and Russia don’t take full control over Libya when the fighting eventually comes to a halt. Given the two countries’ past regional involvement, this would not bode well for Libyans, for the European continent or the region.
Turkish policy analyst Sinen Ulgen, currently at Carnegie, writes that “Erdogan is taking a big gamble in Libya” since Turkey’s military assistance to the GNA exposes it to new risks. Ankara’s aim, he claims, is to achieve a military stalemate and force a political settlement. The question, however, is will this plan work in a “crowded field” with Egypt, the UA and Russia operating in favor of the LNA.
Ulgen explains that Turkey is motivated by a desire to protect its bilateral agreement regarding maritime borders, which allow it to claim economic exploration rights near Crete and Cyprus. Turkey and Greece, he notes, have been in negotiations over resources for decades with no solution. Turkey’s support for Muslim Brotherhood allied regimes has led to a regional rift between it and Egypt and Israel, who are aligned with Greece over the natural resources against Turkey. Therefore, Turkey had to break its isolation and give its claims some legitimacy. The GNA’s quid-pro-quo, he claims, was the second agreement for increased military support.
However, according to Ulgen, Turkey’s military engagement is the price it pays for the failure of its regional politics, which could jeopardise Turkey’s long-term geopolitical interests. Turkey essentially has to major challenges. The first is that unlike in Syria, there is little domestic support for a military campaign in Libya – only 34% of Turks polled are in favour while 58% are opposed. Thus a protracted campaign with Turkish casualties could cost Erdogan dearly. Second, Turkey does not have the military capacity to operate far from home, and will have difficulty establishing supply routes with rival Egypt next door. It also won’t be able to establish air superiority in comparison to UAE and Egyptian air power, that are able to use nearby Egypt as a staging base. Turkish UAV’s are no match for this.
Turkey seems aware of these limitations and is therefore showing it is intent on sending non-combatant advisers along with Syrian mercenaries – who can be effective in combat against other mercenaries and militias.
To preempt an Egyptian and Emirati escalation, Turkey seems to be working with Russia to push for a cease-fire on January 12. However, time will tell if Cairo or Abu Dhabi cooperate, and they are more influential over Haftar than is Russia. For this strategy to succeed, Turkey will have to prove its commitment is credible and military capabilities effective enough.