Moscow hosted Libyan adversaries this week in order to urge them to sign an agreement to secure the ceasefire that had been reached between the forces fighting for the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA), headed by Fayez Al-Sarraj, and the Libyan National Army (LNA) commanded by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar.
Talks lasted about seven hours. Al-Sarraj and Haftar didn’t meet directly. Al-Sarraj signed the draft agreement before departing, while Haftar requested more time to consider it and then left Moscow without signing the document.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov sought to downplay the failure of the talks, saying that efforts to broker a peace deal will continue. “We all work in the same direction and urge all sides [of the conflict] in Libya to negotiate instead of trying to sort things out violently,” Lavrov said Tuesday in Sri Lanka.
Meanwhile, the United Nations urged the opposing sides “to continue to adhere to the announced ceasefire”. In a statement Tuesday, the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) asked the warring parties “to give ongoing diplomatic efforts an opportunity to yield a more permanent cessation of hostilities”.
For its part, Turkey has already sent military personnel to Libya to support Al-Sarraj’s government. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed to teach Haftar “the lesson he deserves” if attacks on the Tripoli government continue.
Addressing his ruling party’s legislators, Erdogan added that it was now up to Russian President Vladimir Putin to convince Haftar to agree to the ceasefire proposal.
As the Libyan delegations converged on the Russian capital, Germany set a date for the long anticipated International Conference on Libya: 19 January. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who jointly brokered the talks in Moscow, have indicated that they plan to attend the conference in Berlin that Ghassan Salame, UN special representative and head of UNSMIL, called for in his briefing to the UN on 29 July 2019.
In Moscow, in addition to Al-Sarraj, chairman of the GNA Presidency Council, the Tripoli faction was represented by Khaled Al-Mishri, chairman of the High Council of State and Al-Sadek Al-Kahili, head of a breakaway House of Representatives group that has been meeting in Tripoli. The eastern based side was represented by Field Marshal Haftar and the speaker of the House of Representatives, Aguila Saleh.
The Russian and Turkish delegations, which acted as go-betweens in the talks, were headed by Russian Defence Minister Sergey Shoygu, Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov and Russian Foreign Intelligence Director Sergey Nareshkin, and for Turkey, Defence Minister Hulusi Akar, Minister of Foreign Affairs Mevlut Cavusoglu and Turkish Intelligence Director Hakan Vidan.
The ceasefire talks in Moscow culminated several weeks of intensive Russian-Turkish discussions on Libya that the two sides said were aimed at coordinating joint efforts to reach a truce between the warring Libyan factions and to advance the UN-led peace process, according to spokespersons for both sides.
The draft ceasefire accord, a copy of which was made available to Al-Ahram Weekly, reaffirms commitment to the unity and territorial integrity of Libya, rejects a military solution to the Libyan crisis and stresses the need to fight terrorism and human trafficking, and obliges the warring parties to commit to the ceasefire that went into effect after midnight Sunday, 12 January. The agreement stated that necessary measures would be taken to bolster the ceasefire and stabilise the situation on the ground so that life could return to normal in the outskirts of Tripoli and elsewhere in Libya and in order to facilitate the delivery of aid and relief to civilians harmed by the conflict.
The agreement also called for the creation of a 10-member military committee, made up of five officers from each side, in keeping with the recommendation of UNSMIL regarding the military/security track of the peace process. The purpose of the committee would be to identify potential flash points between the warring forces, monitor the implementation of the ceasefire and ensure its sustainability. The agreement also invited Libyan leaders to select representatives to take part in “working groups” on a solution to the Libyan crisis. The groups would be tasked with elaborating the economic, political and security-related conditions conducive to ending the Libyan conflict, resolving humanitarian problems and setting the country on the path to economic reconstruction.
According to Libyan sources present in Moscow during the talks, which were held at the Russian Foreign Ministry, considerable progress was made, but various local, regional and international pressures caused an inconclusive first round that required Russian and Turkish follow-through.
In a joint press conference with his Turkish counterpart on Monday evening, Russian Lavrov underscored the “progress achieved until now” in the “intensive” Russian-Turkish brokered negotiations between the main warring parties in Libya. The participants, he said, were able to consider a document that makes it possible to identify the pending problems in the ceasefire that came into effect 12 January in response to President Putin and President Erdogan’s calls for a ceasefire in a joint statement following their meeting in Istanbul 8 January.
“[The parties] discussed the document, which will enable them to specify issues related to the ceasefire,” Lavrov said. “The draft final document of today’s meeting was considered in detail. It was a matter of serious negotiations,” he added. The Russian foreign minister affirmed that representatives from Russia and Turkey would continue to support the two sides in fulfilling the articles of the agreement that were under negotiation.
It appears that the Russo-Turkish initiative at least budged an intractable standoff that has defied other international mediating efforts, bringing within reach the Berlin conference which aims unify international positions on Libya preparatory to the Libyan National Dialogue that Salame has been working to achieve.
At one level, this success — and despite Haftar’s departure without signing the agreement — underscores the fact that the Libyan crisis in general, and the war for Tripoli in particular, is not a simple zero-sum game. The mathematics of the Libyan conflict are far more complex than many imagine, including the players themselves.
At the same time, the negotiations in Moscow exposed a major flaw in the LNA camp led by Haftar whose reluctance to sign the ceasefire accord betrays his fears of the collapse of his local alliances. These include political forces in eastern Libya that champion a federal system and that have provided him with the social base he needed in order to secure control over the east, as well as supporters of the former regime who served as the spearhead of the military campaign he launched in April in order to seize control of Tripoli. All these parties fear being sidelined or weakened in the forthcoming arrangements for Libya.
In addition, the powerful Russo-Turkish intervention in Libya has aroused fears among regional and international circles that support Haftar, because had it succeeded, it would have meant that Ankara and Moscow would have supplanted the customary influence of certain powers whose support Haftar does not want lose, at least not in the short term, despite his ambition to draw closer to and align with a superpower like Russia in order to better strengthen his position.
The Russo-Turkish initiative had the support of Algeria whose Foreign Minister Sabri Boukadoum, visited Riyadh and Abu Dhabi to rally for the Libyan ceasefire agreement and efforts to restart the UN sponsored political process to resolve the Libyan crisis.
The US, UK, Germany, Italy, France and the EU have all welcomed the ceasefire, but they are concerned over its fragility because of ambiguities that still surround political and security arrangements.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 16 January, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.