Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday exhibited Russia’s ascendancy over the Libyan conflict by bringing the two sides in Moscow together to endorse the fragile ceasefire they signed on Saturday. Putin managed to bring together the head of the Unity Government, Fayed el Serraj, backed by the Turkish Government, and Marshal Jalifa Hafter, who receives his support from Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Russia itself. Although it is not recorded that they have sat down to talk, the Moscow appointment is the first in which Hafter and Serraj coincide since the marshal tried to invade Tripoli last April.
Nine months and 1,500 dead later, both sides are preparing to extend the truce accepted on Saturday under the auspices of Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. But as is often the case in Libya, the weight of foreign powers is always relative, even when it comes to Putin himself. The objective was for the opposing parties to establish a ceasefire with permanent verification systems. Even alleged drafts of the agreement even leaked into the Libyan media. Everyone was going to be favored in the photo, from Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu to their Turkish counterparts Mevlut Cavusoglu and Hulusi Akar. But Hafter, 76, asked for more time to reflect. Some observers pointed out that what the marshal is doing now is probably consulting with the other two countries that support him: Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.
The meeting seemed to be waiting, although Lavrov was optimistic. “[Hafter] He sees the document in a positive light and so I hope it will be his decision, “said the Russian foreign minister.” We have taken into account the suggestions, especially those on Hafter’s side, to reach a mutual understanding, “said Turk Cavusoglu. The document includes a truce with no deadline, according to the still unsigned draft that was leaked in various Russian media.
The good news, despite all the setbacks and the multiple violations denounced by both parties, is that the fragile ceasefire still continues. And proof of this is that the Mitiga international airport in Tripoli became operational again after several weeks in which the bombings by Hafter impeded the traffic of civilian flights.
The meeting itself has already been a diplomatic achievement for the Russian leader. The European Union, United Nations and United States had been demanding for months the end of the fighting. No progress had been made until Russia and Turkey, with energy interests in the country with the largest proven oil reserves in Africa, have been fully utilized. Hafter has benefited from the arrival of hundreds of Russian mercenaries who have managed to tilt the war in their favor, until they conquered the bastion of Sirte. And Erdogan has stepped forward and got his Parliament to approve the dispatch of regular soldiers to Libya.
Putin, who wants to present himself as a mediator, insists that if there are Russian military contractors in Libya, they have no ties to the state. Meanwhile, Turkey has sent three dozen soldiers to the North African country to help train and coordinate forces loyal to El Serraj. When everything seemed doomed to a warlike confrontation between the Russians and the Turks, Erdogan and Putin met and forced a ceasefire between the parties.
The Russian leader has a special interest in Libya, a country in chaos since the fall of the Muammar Gaddafi regime in 2011 after a popular revolt and military intervention led by France, the United Kingdom and the United States. Not only for having a front row position in the future of juicy energy contracts and in the reconstruction of the country; Nor is it solely due to the geostrategic location of the North African State, a fundamental point on migration routes and an enclave whose instability directly influences the EU and the Mediterranean countries. Putin, analyst Mikhail Rostovsky points out, believes that the West “broke up” Libya and then shyly pulled away, unable to face the direct consequences of its own actions. “On the one hand, this is bad for Russia: the West should have removed its own garbage. But on the other hand it is good: Putin had the opportunity, on an extremely practical level, to demonstrate the superiority of his philosophy of foreign policy over the western one. To do it, you have to fix what the Americans and the Europeans ruined; To return to paste Libya”.
Meanwhile, Chancellor Angela Merkel continues her attempt to convene an international conference in Berlin. The date set for this meeting that has been preparing for months with the UN will be January 19. One of the diplomats who will attend that event indicated to this newspaper: “The objective that had been set by the UN envoy for Libya (the Lebanese Ghassan Salamé), is to put a little order among the countries that have interests in Libya and then put order among the Libyans. But that objective has suddenly been altered with the intervention of Russia and Turkey. “