On Monday in Moscow, the leaders of the opposing sides in Libya concluded negotiations, at the end of which the Russian Foreign Minister said that certain progress had been made. A fragile ceasefire, mediated by Russia and Turkey, has come into effect in Libya.
Russia and Turkey have taken on the role of key arbitrators in Libya, trying to encourage Fayez al-Sarraj, head of the internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) and his adversary General Khalifa Haftar to start coordinating the general conditions of a longer-term political agreement which pleases both Ankara and Moscow.
On Monday before the start of the talks, Sarraj urged Libyans to “start on a clean slate”, set aside their disagreements, unite and move towards stability and peace. He said that the GNA agreed to the ceasefire in order to stop the bloodshed, but remains in a “position of strength, in order to support the cohesion of the nation and society”.
The parties did not manage to sign a peace agreement on Monday as planned, and the decision was made to continue the talks on Tuesday. However, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov expressed confidence that the parties would sign the document at the end of the day, and noted that they have a positive view of it.
According to monitoring organizations, more than 280 civilians and around 2,000 fighters have been killed, and roughly 146,000 people have been forced to leave their homes since Haftar began his offensive on Tripoli last year.
According to analysts, the stakes are high for both Russia and Turkey, who support opposite sides in the Libyan conflict. Russia is concerned about its reputation and possible collaboration in the oil sector, whereas Turkey has more extensive commercial interests.
Turkey backs Sarraj and has sent its own forces to support the GNA, whereas Russia backs Haftar, supporting him through hundreds of mercenaries from the Wagner private military company.
Last week Russian President Vladimir Putin said that he is aware that there are Russian mercenaries in Libya, but stressed that they are not under his command.
“If there are are Russian citizens there, they do not represent the interests of the Russian government or receive money from the Russian government,” he said.
Haftar’s forces are also supported by the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. The French government has denied Sarraj’s accusations that it secretly supports Haftar’s siege of Tripoli.
Commenting on the increasing role of foreign players in the Libyan conflict, German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned last week that the country risks falling into a civil war, like Syria.
Merkel welcomed the mediation by Ankara and Moscow. Speaking at a joint press conference with Putin last Saturday, she said: “We hope that the joint efforts by Russia and Turkey will lead to success, and we will soon send out invitations for a conference in Berlin.”
Analysts have observed that the European countries which are actively providing Libya with humanitarian aid have recently adopted the stance of silent observers and want someone else to handle the resolution of the conflict, which has added to the flow of migrants to Europe.
However, the EU does not have a unified position on which side in the Libyan conflict should be supported. The disagreement between France and Italy in this regard contributed to the failure of international efforts to bring about a peaceful resolution.
“Without European leadership in the Libyan matter, Russia and Turkey have found it easier to get involved in the conflict themselves,” observe analysts Karim Mezran and Emily Burchfield from the Atlantic Council.