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The Russian-Turkish war games in Libya

This post was published in Defence24.pl. The point of view expressed in this article is authorial and do not necessarily reflect BM`s editorial stance.

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WARSAW, (BM) – In a war-torn Libya, there has recently been a key turnaround in existing warfare. This would not have been possible without increasing military and political support from Russia and Turkey, which, by supporting the opposing sides of this conflict, are leading a new installment of their own geopolitical game in the region. In the shadow of these two actors remain the Arab states and the European Union, which have their own interests in the region.

The beginning of 2020 in Libya announced the conclusion of a long-awaited ceasefire and negotiated by the international community, followed by the start of a peace process in that country. However, it soon turned out that the complete ending of this conflict was not in the interest of virtually any of the few foreign actors supporting one of the two sides of the conflict who were using it to implement their own policy in the region. This year, Russia and Turkey stood at the forefront of the geopolitical game in Libya.

At the beginning of the year, the Turkish authorities decided to increase armed support for this party to the conflict at the request of the internationally recognized Government of the National Agreement. The price for strong political and military protection for the Tripoli government was economically favorable to Turkey from the point of view of establishing a sea border with Libya. This in turn allows free exploitation of natural deposits from the bottom of the Mediterranean, which is a clear blow to the economic interests of neighboring countries such as Cyprus, Egypt and Greece in conflict with Turkey.

In turn, the Russian authorities began to increase their political and military support for the other party to this conflict, i.e. the rebel Libyan National Army (LNA) General Halifa Khaftar. Until now, the internationally unrecognized government from Benghazi was only openly supported by Arab states such as Egypt, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates, as well as unofficially by France.

Together, the Russian and Turkish authorities forced peace talks between the conflicting parties, first internally in Moscow, and then at an international peace conference in Berlin. However, Ankara and Moscow’s plans were thwarted by the general opposition of General Haftar, who did not agree to the truce proposal presented to him. However, the ceasefire agreement remained in force, which, though not respected, reduced the intensity of fighting in Libya in the following weeks.

Despite Libya being subject to an international arms embargo, both sides of the conflict are constantly receiving a wide stream of arms and ammunition and foreign mercenary supplies from their foreign allies. The ceasefire and coronavirus pandemic did not change this situation in any way.

GNA can still count on generous military support from Turkey in the form of unmanned aerial vehicles and light armored vehicles, as well as other weapon systems. What is worth emphasizing on the north-west coast of Libya is rotating all the time Turkish G-missile frigates (i.e. modernized Oliver Hazard Perry), which sometimes support government troops, also with standard SM-1 anti-aircraft missile fire. On the other hand, Turkish air defense systems (MIM-23 HAWK, possibly also newer HISAR families) are deployed at strategic points under the control of the Tripoli government. Thousands of jihadist mercenaries from northwestern Syria, which is under Turkey’s control, as well as the presence of Turkish military instructors are enormous personnel support for the GNA militia.

In turn, the LNA can count on military support primarily from Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, and Russia also in the form of unmanned aerial vehicles, light armored vehicles (and older heavy fighting vehicles), as well as air defense systems. Additional personnel support for rebel militias are Russian mercenaries from the so-called Wagner groups. However, this support is, as recent events have shown, extremely embarrassing and is an excellent tool for putting pressure on General Haftar in the hands of the Russians.

Systematically, from mid-April, GNA began recovering a strategic initiative on the front. Within two months to date, government troops have succeeded in taking control of the northwestern Mediterranean coast, the northern part of the country’s border with Tunisia, joining the southeastern enclave of their forces. A strong assault from the suburbs of Tripoli over the past week has allowed the rebels to be completely displaced south of the Libyan capital, and then the reflection of all of northwest Libya. Currently, the main axis of the struggle of both sides of the conflict is the coastal city of Syrta captured by rebels at the beginning of the year and still under their control.

The spectacular success of the Tripoli government forces would not have been possible without the abruptly increasing support from Turkey, which after the conclusion at the beginning of March this year. of the ceasefire in Syrian Idliba, Libya was the main focus. The massive supply of modern armaments, as well as the open support of the Turkish armed forces and supplying the ranks of the GNA militia with thousands of battle-hardened and fanatical Syrian mercenaries allowed to concentrate and carry out a rapid offensive and reflection of huge areas in a short time.

On the other hand, the tremendous successes of the Tripoli government described above would not have been possible without concrete steps taken by Russia. On the eve of the beginning of the offensive of government troops, Russian mercenaries from the so-called Wagner’s groups were to completely withdraw from their positions in the southern suburbs of Tripoli deep into Libya, which significantly weakened the rebel forces in the region. On the other hand, at the same time, in the escort of Russian aviation to Libya, new combat machines for Haftar’s aviation (MiG-29 and Su-24M) were moved, and new Pancyr anti-aircraft sets in the version used by the Russian army appeared on the ground …

Everything seems to indicate that Russia and Turkey are still at least partly pursuing a joint and agreed policy in Libya aimed at pursuing their own interests in the region, despite supporting the opposite sides of this conflict. The continuation of the offensive, as well as the maintenance of previous gains by GNA is fully dependent on Turkey’s political and military support. In turn, Russia does not currently care about the victory of Haftar, who is not subject to such an extent as Tripoli Ankara. Further successes of government forces may, however, put pressure on the rebels and push them deeper into Moscow’s arms, which the latter certainly counts on.

In the current situation, Haftar can count on further political and military support of the Arab states, especially in the light of recent events in neighboring Egypt. GNA’s potential victory in the Libyan conflict would be very bad for this country from a political and economic point of view. In recent days, the president of Egypt has launched a new peace initiative for Libya, and the Egyptian army began to concentrate on the border with Libya in the northwest of the country. The country’s potential military intervention in Libya in the event of further progress of the GNA offensive could be another key turn in this conflict.

Currently, developments in Libya are extremely dynamic and very difficult to predict. On the day of publication of this commentary in Benghazi, the German ambassador held talks with General Haftar, thus refuting the rumors passed by the Turkish Ministry of Defense about him leaving Libya. In turn, according to unofficial information around the city of Sirte, which was after rebel control, a multirole fighter Dassault Rafale was to appear near the front line. It is not certain, however, whether it was a machine belonging to the Egyptian or French air forces (north of Libya at the same time the French C-135FR flight was registered).

The current situation in Libya is the aftermath of the geopolitical game being played for many months by Russia and Turkey in that country. It is intended to allow for lasting dependence and sharing of influence and interests, just as it was and is still happening in Syria. For Russia, the main goal now is to potentially push Libyan rebels into orbit, and above all the opportunity to gain their own foothold to project power in the Mediterranean and North Africa. In turn, for Turkey, the main goal is the potential benefits of exploiting the natural resources of the Mediterranean bottom, as well as shares in the Libyan oil industry and the reconstruction of the war-damaged country. The possibility of controlling migratory pressure on Europe from Libya may also be significant.

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