23/09/2020

Europe scrambles as Russia flexes diplomatic muscles

Hastily arranged peace talks brokered by Russia and Turkey have brought leaders of Libyas two warring factions to Moscow for a surprise meeting that could bring peace to the north African nation while cutting out European powers. 
Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, and Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish president, hammered out a truce leading to peace talks late last week.
On Monday, just days after insisting he would not negotiate with terrorists in Tripoli, Libyas renegade commander Khalifa Haftar and his adversary Fayez al-Sarraj, prime minister of the UN-brokered Government of National Accord, arrived in the Russian capital for peace talks. 
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By days end it remained unclear if any lasting deal would be be struck, with reports that Mr Haftars delegation had left meetings without signing a final statement expressing support for a truce. Mr Sarrajs delegation also insisted in statements to media that it had refused to sit down with Mr Haftar.
It was nonetheless a stunning and unexpected turn in the Libya conflict, and another instance of Mr Putin using the levers of diplomacy to put his imprint on the geopolitics of the Middle East and north Africa. France, Italy, Germany and other European and Arab powers scrambled to catch up.
Until a few weeks ago the Europeans were happy taking their sweet time, said Jalel Harchaoui, a north Africa specialist at the Clingendael Institute, a Dutch think tank. Now what were seeing is not about concrete peace as about a change of venue and the emergence of Moscow as the superpower that all the actors are happy to speak with.
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A woman brandishing a rifle takes part in a demonstration held by Libyans and Syrians in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi to protest against Turkey’s prospective military intervention
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Turkish members of parliament vote to send Turkish troops to Libya. They passed a bill approving a military deployment to Libya aimed at shoring up the UN-backed government in Tripoli, at a time of intensifying international tensions over the conflict. The beleaguered Tripoli government has been under sustained attack since April by military strongman General Khalifa Haftar, who is backed by Turkey’s regional rivals – Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates
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A woman brandishing a rifle takes part in a demonstration held by Libyans and Syrians in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi to protest against Turkey’s prospective military intervention
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Turkish members of parliament vote to send Turkish troops to Libya. They passed a bill approving a military deployment to Libya aimed at shoring up the UN-backed government in Tripoli, at a time of intensifying international tensions over the conflict. The beleaguered Tripoli government has been under sustained attack since April by military strongman General Khalifa Haftar, who is backed by Turkey’s regional rivals – Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates
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Mr Haftars Libyan National Army and forces loyal to Mr Sarrajs government have been at war over the capital, Tripoli, since April, in a conflict that has cost hundreds of lives and drawn in the interference of regional powers. 
Mr Haftar, a former armed forces officer, launched the war promising a quick victory to his backers in Cairo and the Gulf. Western Libyan forces rallied and prevented him from entering the capital. 
Turkey, a strong backer of Mr Sarrajs government, in recent weeks began to deploy troops, allied Syrian fighters, and sophisticated military hardware to Libya to counter Mr Haftars forces, which are backed by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. 
Turkeys overt intervention and its escalating influence in Libya has prompted alarm in France and among other backers of Mr Haftar, including eastern Mediterranean countries worried about Ankaras attempts to lay claim to offshore gas reserves. 
 Renegade commander Khalifa Haftar (AP)
News of the Russian and Turkish brokered talks set off a flurry of high-level diplomacy. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Egypts president and Mr Haftars primary backer and mentor, conferred with Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, over Libya. 
Germany now says it plans to hold long-planned Libya peace talks in Berlin on 19 January. 
Italy, Libyas former colonial overlord, also appeared eager to re-engage in the Libya matter.
Despite praise for the deal in the Turkish press, experts say the prospects for a lasting peace are dim. Though Mr Sarraj and Mr Haftar are in Moscow there is no plan for the two men to meet. 
Mr Sarraj commands a measure of loyalty from the powerful armed factions that are pillars of the Government of National Accord but has little control over them. Mr Haftar could be using the peace talks to consolidate gains and buy time to rearm after his recent taking of the central Libyan city of Sirte. In the days since the ceasefire went into effect both sides have accused the other of violating its terms. 
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Mr Haftar may have ultimately acceded to the talks under pressure from his Egyptian and Emirati backers, who were lobbied by Mr Putin. Hes cornered, said Mr Harchaoui. Hes already been given far more time and resources than he initially asked for. He cannot keep asking for more time. The Emiratis know they have time to fine tune the picture later on.
Mr Putin also has a history of making flashy diplomatic announcements in order to increase Russias diplomatic leverage and standing, only to walk away and let others deal with the fallout when agreements flounder and the shooting resumes. 
Its premature to talk about peace, said Anas el-Gomati, a founder of the Sadeq Institute, a think tank focused on Libya. The ceasefire will be temporary. Its not designed to be operational. Its designed for consumption. Russia is not interested in Libya. Its interested in using Libya to pressure Europe and Turkey.