Libyan Conflict: Russia And Turkey Vie For A Solution

On Sunday, military commander Khalifa Haftar announced his fighters would agree to a ceasefire in the Western regions of Libya, after having days earlier rejected the ceasefire called by Russia and Turkey. Minutes after the ceasefire went into place, however, both sides accused each other of having violated it. Khalifa Haftar, who is the commander of the Libyan National Army (LNA), and allied with the Tobruk-based government in the East, is currently waging an offensive in Western Libya in an attempt to capture the capital, Tripoli, from the U.N.-backed Government of National Accord (GNA). Turkey is currently supporting the GNA, and last week began deploying Turkish troops to Libya after passing a parliamentary motion which authorized the move. Russia, together with Egypt, the U.A.E., and Jordan, backs Khalifa Haftar’s LNA. 

The ceasefire would only be abided by conditionally “provided that the other party abides by the ceasefire”, an LNA spokesman stated. He added that “any breach will be met with a harsh response”. However, in a statement, the GNA reported that it had witnessed breaches of the agreement just “minutes” after it was supposed to start, attributing the gunfire to “the aggressor’s militias”. On the opposing side, LNA commander Al-Mabrouk Al-Ghazawi stated that “the [GNA] militias violated the truce on more than one battlefront, with all types of weapons”. 

As these preliminary attitudes show us, the ceasefire agreement is already off to a questionable start. Strongman, Khalifa Haftar, has demonstrated himself to be an uncompromising character, and apparently only agreed to the ceasefire after enough pressure was put on him by his Russian ally. With ceasefire violations already being reported, it will ultimately come down to how much pressure these foreign powers can exert over the warring factions within Libya in order to ensure that conflict is kept to a minimum. Brokering a deal between the two opposing factions will be difficult considering the fact that Khalifa’s LNA has much more leverage over the GNA in terms of its military might, territorial control, and foreign benefactors. In comparison, the GNA possesses minimal military forces, which has prompted the move by Turkey to deploy its own military forces in support of them. The GNA’s weakness is compounded by the fact that despite its internationally-recognized status, the international community has, for the most part, abandoned any efforts to seek a peaceful solution to the civil war, with the country being essentially relegated to obscurity.

If there were a real imperative to do so, large-scale conflict in Libya could have largely been avoided if international actors—namely, the US and European powers—had actively engaged in diplomatic efforts and in enforcing the arms embargo on the country. However, their unwillingness to do so demonstrates that Libya is nowhere to be seen on their list of priorities. In seems that the only priority the U.S. and EU powers had in Libya was the toppling of its leader Muammar Gaddafi, and once this had been done, they were content to wash their hands of its disastrous consequences. Thus, in the absence of the international community, it will now come down to the subsidiary powers of Russia and Turkey to broker a solution to the conflict, as they also appear to be doing in Syria. It remains to be seen how effectively these two powers will be able to exert their influence over Libya’s mosaic of militias and warlords.