How is Russia Meddling in the Libyan Conflict?

How is Russia Meddling in the Libyan Conflict?
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Published August 23rd, 2017 - 07:00 GMT via SyndiGate.info

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Moscow received Khalifa Haftar this month for a third official visit in a year.
Moscow received Khalifa Haftar this month for a third official visit in a year.

Moscow received Khalifa Haftar this month for a third official visit in a year. Haftar met with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on 14 August and the two held a joint press conference. 

Over the last year, Russia has stepped up its contact and engagement with Libya compared to the years following the fall in 2011 of the Gaddafi regime. Russia had close relations with Gaddafi throughout most of his era, especially as the relationship between Gaddafi and western countries including the US was mostly tense and antagonistic.

In 2008 Gaddafi visited Moscow for the first time in 23 years, during which he struck deals with Putin, who was then the prime minister. Agreements included reducing and rescheduling debts that Libya had accrued over decades in return for new trade deals worth around $10 billion in areas of arms, railway construction and oil and gas exploration.

Putin also asked for a strategic naval base on the Mediterranean, but Gaddafi only agreed to Russian fleets having access to Benghazi's port for very short periods.

It is therefore understandable that Russia was not keen on supporting the Libyan uprising against Gaddafi in February 2011, and was very critical of the NATO military involvement in implementing UN Security council resolution 1973.

Yet, Russia did not veto this resolution that allowed military intervention, nor has it vetoed any resolutions on Libya since. So what exactly is Russia's strategy in Libya today, given the apparent warmer relations? Contact has not only been established with Haftar, but also with other key Libyan factions such as the Tripoli based Government of National Accord (GNA) as well as influential military and political groups from the city of Misrata.

  This in effect, would mean a new pro-Russia military dictator taking charge of Libya  

It seems that Russia has two distinctly different possible options to pursue in Libya today, as the country goes through a crisis of deep conflict fuelled partly by damaging regional interference.

The first option, is a soft diplomatic and political approach in which networks are maintained with all the key and influential Libyan stakeholders, where Russia encourages a more inclusive dialogue that may lead to a genuine accord and stabilisation of the country.

The second, is an aggressive one-sided approach in which Russia chooses to back Khalifa Haftar militarily and politically in order to influence the balance of power in his favour, so that he can extend his control across all of Libya's territory and take political power.

This in effect, would mean a new pro-Russia military dictator taking charge of Libya, where he can serve Russia's geopolitical, economic and energy interests in Libya and the wider region.

 Read more:  Is France paving the way to Haftar's return in Libya?
  

In putting its full weight behind Haftar, Russia will be joining other countries, such as the UAE, Egypt and even France to a lesser extent. Such a strategy is not guaranteed success, as there are still powerful forces at work within Libya who remain staunchly opposed to Haftar taking control.

Moreover, this strategy will put Russia directly at odds with the interests of the US and key European countries including the UK, Italy and Germany who appear to be against the idea of a total Haftar hegemony, and who support a more inclusive political solution within a UN sponsored framework. 

Haftar supporters are keen to emphasise that Russia is actually backing their man, and point to the regular high profile contacts and visits that are taking place. In reality however, Russia has not delivered - until now - any substantial material support to Haftar in terms of advanced arms or military training.

  Russia has not delivered - until now - any substantial material support to Haftar in terms of advanced arms or military training  

Russia is still adhering to the embargo on arms sales to Libya that was imposed by the UN in 2011. Putin insists Russia will only consider supplying arms to Haftar, once the ban has been lifted. Perhaps Russia has realised then, that a strategy of putting its full weight behind the 75-year-old Haftar - a divisive figure in Libya with controversies and accusations such as war crimes against his name - is a very risky strategy.

Copyright @ 2017 The New Arab.

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