LIBYA: Battle for Tripoli – Russia Plays at ‘Moderating’ Role While Favoring Haftar’s LNA


MOSCOW – Russia calls on warring parties in Libya to return to the negotiating table and resolve disputes peacefully. Lev Dengov, head of the contact group on intra-Libyan settlement at the Foreign Ministry and the State Duma, explained to Russian media.

The diplomat also said that the aggravation of the situation occurred two weeks before the planned conference. Representatives of Tripoli, headed by the leader of the Government of National Accord Faiz Sarraj, and delegates from the Parliament in Tobruk under the leadership of the Commander of the Libyan National Army (LNA) Khalifa Haftar were invited. The special representative noted that Libyans are seriously afraid of foreign intervention and the repetition of the 2011 scenario.

The escalation of the situation in Libya began on April 4 – General Khalifa Haftar, who heads the country’s eastern provinces controlled by the national government in Tobruk, announced the start of a military “operation to liberate Tripoli” and called on residents of the city to voluntarily surrender and go to his side.

After the video message, in which Khalifa Haftar called upon the people of Tripoli to “lay down their arms and raise the white flag,” Prime Minister Faiz Sarraj ordered the troops to be fully operational in order to protect civilians. Military aircraft were scrambled.

As Russian contact-group representative Lev Dengov explains, Moscow is concerned about the aggravation of the situation and calls on both sides to resolve the disputes that have arisen by peaceful means.

“We urge Tobruk and Tripoli to avoid bloodshed.”Throughout this time, our country has maintained contacts with all parties to the conflict – with representatives of Tobruk, Tripoli, and Misurata. Therefore, to say that we support any one side is unfair. We urge the parties to return to a productive peaceful dialogue, to the positions stated during the Palermo conference,” the special representative said.

“The most important thing is to prevent foreign intervention so that the conflict can be resolved without the involvement of third actors,” he added.

“There is a growing concern among the residents of Tripoli that the events of eight years ago may repeat,” the politician said.

FRN assesses that these comments come as a form of diplomatic cover. While it is certainly logical that Russia does not want foreign intervention outside of their own efforts, it is also clear that Russia has overall be en favoring Haftar’s forces from Tobruk. He has already united the vast majority of Libya, and Sirte, Misurata, and Tripoli remain the only areas  in control of Sarraj. Sarraj is favored by the west, and is recognized by the UN. However, he is backed by Al Qaeda-type formations, and has been unable to bring stability, let alone economic growth to the war-torn country. This creates a delicate scenario for Russia.

Prior to this, on April 4, speaking at the Libyan Youth Forum, General Haftar said that the political crisis in the country would be resolved already this month by creating a single government. At the time however, experts did not accept the words of Haftar as a possible threat to the authorities in Tripoli – in mid-April it was planned to hold a national conference at which talks were expected between representatives of the East, the West, as well as southern provinces and Misurata, the third largest force in the country, not controlled by Sarraj, nor Haftar. However, it is understood that Misurata sees their fate tied to Sarraj and Tripoli. Should Tripoli be unified with the rest of Libya under Haftar, then Misurata would have no options.

In February, Haftar’s forces seized the largest oil field in Libya, al-Sharara, without encountering much resistance from Tripoli or Misurata. Then there were reports in the press that the army was moving to the south-west of the country, subordinating more and more new areas. Given that the LNA already controls most of the coast, where large export terminals are located, it is safe to say that deliveries of Libyan oil abroad are now almost completely in the hands of Haftar.

The intervention never stopped. “American aviation still strikes at terrorist formations,” the political scientist noted. – This situation is unstable, since there are two centers of power and many different groups that have their own armed structures. And it can not last forever. Will Haftar have enough strength to extend control to the whole country? Before that, nobody could do it.

According to Senator Alexei Pushkov, due to the multiplicity of centers of power in Libya, virtually no Western state has enough authority in Libyan affairs in order to get some kind of compromise from them.

The last round of peace talks between the two opposing camps was held in late February. Then, in the UAE capital Abu Dhabi, Faiz Saraj and Khalifa Haftar held talks, at which the parties addressed the most important issues of intra-Libyan settlement. In particular, they reaffirmed their commitment to hold national parliamentary elections in the spring. This idea was expressed during last year’s Palermo Conference by the UN Special Representative for Libya Gassan Salame. It was supposed that the elections would put an end to the existing dual power in the country – according to their results a single parliament was to be formed.

The protracted crisis in Libya is a consequence of the direct and illegal intervention of NATO in the affairs of the country, which led to chaos, said Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

“As a result, this country was plunged into chaos, became a source of regional instability, a hotbed of terrorism,” said Lavrov in an interview with the Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram before going to Cairo.

The situation in Libya again escalated in early April. The commander of the Libyan National Army, Marshal Khalifa Haftar, announced the launch of an offensive on Tripoli to dismiss the government of national consensus led by Fayez Sarraj, which he considers terrorist.

In turn, in the Libyan capital declared full combat readiness.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres at a press conference in Tripoli called on the parties to avoid military clashes.

The UN Security Council supported the Secretary General and announced his intention to bring to justice those responsible for the escalation of the conflict.

In 2011, the United States and the European Union supported the Libyan rebels and promoted the coup d’etat “the Arab spring”, in which the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was killed, and in terms of the number of victims this conflict became the largest in the Middle East, not counting the war in Syria.

So far, clashes continue in the country, besides, dual power has reigned there – a parliament elected by the people sits in the eastern city of Tobruk, and the government of Sarraj, formed with the support of the United Nations and Europe, sits in Tripoli.

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