Alwaght- Clashes continue in Libya under the shadow of the international inaction, as over the past few days forces of the so-called Libyan National Army (LNA) led by General Khalifa Haftar have launched a new wave of assault against capital Tripoli, the seat of the National Accord Government (NAG).
While the internationally-recognized government in Tripoli has repeatedly demanded the United Nations Security Council help to push for halt of the Haftar-led military campaign and almost all of the UNSC highlighted the need for the warring sides to end the violence and start peace dialogue, it seems that a rivalry between the UNSC permanent members, mainly Russia and the US, is the main hurdle ahead of a resolution to end the fighting.
US eyes expansion in the Mediterranean
As Khalifa Haftar, a remnant of the deposed regime of Muammar Gadhafi, led an operation to seize the capital in the northwest of the country, the US ordered the withdrawal of its forces from the North African country in what many view a blow to the National Accord Government, which set its eyes on Western military protection to thwart fast advances by LNA.
The US is one of others— the Israeli regime, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Egypt— that is allied to the powerful general. The return of Haftar to the post-Gadhafi Libya was not possible without the US green light. He in the 1990s was arrested in Chad as a commander of the Libyan forces in the African country and was transferred to Pennsylvania. He returned to Libya in 2011, the year a NATO-assisted uprising brought down Gadhafi from his rule. When the tensions started in Libya, the general’s presence in Tobruk province in the country’s east was facilitated. After 8 years of the revolution, Haftar added to his power.
On the other side, US President Donald Trump is open to Haftar seizure of power in the war-devastated country. After all, Haftar can present an instrument to repress the Muslim Brotherhood forces and at the same time his military prestige and power will help him more effectively confront the militias and terrorist groups, like ISIS, active across the country. By supporting Haftar, White House can also retaliate Europe’s decline to support the Washington proposal to send Western troops to Syria. After the LNA advances towards the capital, Italy repeatedly asked the US government to pay further attention to the chaotic situation in Libya. Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina with an alliance to Trump, addressed the demands saying that any response to Italy's calls for intervention to stop Haftar forces should be returned by Rome’s deployment of forces to northeastern Syria.
Add to this Washington’s siding with the US regional allies, mainly Egypt. The White House is afraid that a decline to meet Cairo demands will lead to President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s separation of ways from the Americans. The recent Egyptian president’s pullout of the US-sponsored Arab NATO initiative and establishment of contacts with Moscow stands as a root to this American appeasement. El-Sisi is unhappy to see the rise of an Islamist government in Libya similar to neighboring Tunisia, where the Muslim Brotherhood, blacklisted as a terrorist movement in Egypt, holds sway in the politics.
But most important of all, the increased clashes in Libya will mean the provision of Washington with a chance to boost its military presence in the Mediterranean Sea in competition against Russia and China. While Libya is burning in the home war, the US boosts its naval presence off North African coasts, where there are huge oil reserves. As an initial response to the rejuvenated Libya crisis, Washington dispatched its USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier to the Mediterranean.
Russia and cautious moves in Libya
Russia has treated the recent Libyan developments very cautiously. While it called for intra-Libyan dialogue, Moscow opposed a Britain-drafted UNSC resolution urging an end to the deadly confrontation. Moscow keeps contacts with warring sides.
Reports came out that in March, Wagner Group, a Russian paramilitary firm, sent 300 forces to Benghazi province, the second largest city and bastion of the LNA, to train the LNA fighters on use of artillery, tanks, ammunition, and drones. The deployment came after a meeting between Khalifa Haftar, Russian Demesne Minister Sergey Shoygu, and Yuri Prigogine, Wagner Group’s commander.
Haftar has under his control oilfields and this will allow him to constantly buy Russian arms. Additionally, because Haftar is supported by the Western and Arab actors, Russia cannot afford falling behind in the game.
Furthermore, closeness to Haftar can improve relations between Russia and the UAE, both backing Syria’s return to the Arab League. Syria’s membership was suspended shortly after the eruption of the internal crisis in 2011.
Still, Russia is not interested in Haftar's full domination on Tripoli. Kremlin holds close ties with the NAG and if the general’s campaign fails to meet its goals, then the tendency for the Russian mediation in the Libyan crisis will rise.
To realize this ambitious profile in Libya, Russia has established a Libya contact group, with its task being the facilitation of intra-Libyan negotiations. On February 16, Maria Zakharova, the spokeswoman for the Russian foreign ministry, stated that Moscow was considering hosting a “comprehensive dialogue conference” for the sake of Libya peace. She declined to specify any date for the event, however.
Russia’s mediation in Libya peace talks will improve its international prestige and Moscow will be highlighted as a power in the new global order for its help to stabilization of the Mediterranean. Some analysts suggest that the Russian President Vladimir Putin is influenced by thoughts of Yevgeny Primakov, the Soviet-era Prime Minister of Russia, and considers West Asia the key confrontation setting where he can take on the US and restore the fallen Soviet empire’s magnificence. That was the serious motivation for him to strongly enter Syria conflict, they add.
To conclude, the silence of the global powers, mixed with a wary waiting to see where things in Libya go, beside the massive financial and military support presented to Haftar by the regional actors, will practically leave the efforts to halt clashes desperate.