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.