Turkish-Russian “proxy war” jeopardises peace agreement in Libya - Bloomberg

Turkey and Russia’s involvement in opposite sides of a months-long battle between the internationally recognised Government of National Accord and General Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army endangers the possibility of a peace agreement in war-torn Libya, wrote a former NATO commander for Bloomberg.

“The long-running Libyan civil war appears to be staggering toward a finale,” said James Stavridis, also a retired U.S. Navy admiral. “But the fighting is not simply a domestic issue – Libya’s civil war has become a proxy for regional and global power geopolitics.”

Turkey and Qatar have thrown their support behind the Tripoli-based GNA, while the Haftar-led LNA is backed by Russia, along with Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and France.

“Haftar’s defeat may be an opening for a negotiated settlement, but it will require those outside nations to push the warring sides to the table,” Stavridis wrote.

Analysts say Turkey’s contributions were vital in helping the GNA seize the al-Watiya airbase on Monday, as Turkish drones and artillery had pounded the base for weeks before LNA forces retreated. Turkey has also flown in thousands of fighters from allied militias in Syria to aid in the Libyan struggle, according to widespread media reports.

Meanwhile, Soviet-era Russian jets were reported to have arrived at the LNA’s al-Jufra airbase to bolster the Tobruk-based group’s firepower. In December, Russia also reportedly sent mercenaries of the Kremlin-linked Wagner group to support Haftar.

“The whole thing is an echo of the so-called Great Game the British and Russians waged in Central Asia in the 19th century, but now playing out in North Africa,” Bloomberg columnist wrote, referring to the 19th century diplomatic confrontation between the Russian and British empires over Afghanistan and neighbouring territories.

Ankara and Moscow had pushed for a resumption of peace talks in January, but the peace process broke down after the agreed-upon ceasefire was repeatedly violated and the GNA and LNA’s foreign backers continued sending arms to the Libya.

Turkey and Russia, both “motivated by oil wealth and regional leverage,” never reached a deal, Stavridis wrote, but perhaps the LNA setbacks will reopen an opportunity for a new peace agreement.

He recommended that the United States should partner with the European Union to broker new talks and press NATO ally Turkey to negotiate with Russia on each reducing military support, while have involved Gulf Arab countries, like the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt agree to distance from the Libyan peace process.

He also suggested the United States help “build a ceasefire that could restart the oil production” and provide humanitarian assistance in containing the COVID-19 coronavirus.