Civil War in Libya: Russian Goals and Policy

Civil War in Libya: Russian Goals and Policy

Written on 04/30/2019

Libya is considered the third most destabilized Arab country only to Syria and Yemen. The violent battle for the country’s capital city of Tripoli erupted in early April, opening a new chapter in Libya’s civil war that had broken out back in 2014. After a NATO-backed operation that removed the Gaddafi regime from power, the international community has yet wrongfully give Libya’s further fate into the hands of its inhabitants.

  • Libya’s war axis thus consisted of a conflict between the Government of National Accord (GNA), endorsed jointly by the United Nations, the United States and most of EU Member States, and a competitive body, with its headquarters in eastern Libya, along with allied troops of Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, backed by Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Russia. The civil war has fitted into the long-lasting rivalry between Libyan regions of Tripolitania and Cyrenaica, fuelled by tribal divisions and rifts between Islamic fundamentalists and proponents of a secular state as well as those between radical supporters of the revolution and Gaddafi’s loyalists.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin has recognized the go-ahead for ousting Muammar Gaddafi from power as one of Moscow’s most dreadful mistakes over the last two decades. As a result of the armed intervention, Libya plunged into a civil war while Moscow lost colossal money and influence, both of which it used to enjoy in the past. Although humiliated in 2011, Putin long aspired to re-emerge as a key player in Libya. The country’s present-day balance of power is yet doomed to fail as it comprises a set of actors, including first and foremost the Tripoli government, Haftar’s forces stationed in Libya’s Oil Crescent but also various local militia and Daesh jihadists. A new reshuffle needs, therefore, to take place, Putin will have an explicit intention to join such an undertaking.
  • Moscow has so far taken the side of Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, a Libyan military officer who can count on the Kremlin’s discreet aid and protection in the international arena. This is a crucial asset for the head of the Libyan National Army (LNA), given that the Tripoli government enjoys international legitimacy. However, Moscow’s goal does not only consist in aiding Haftar; the Russians have also met the UN-backed Government of National Accord in Tripoli.
  • The Kremlin’s optimal objective in Libya encompassed its pursuits to put an end to the civil war while enabling its protagonist to seize power over the country. Despite some restrictions, Haftar deems as the key candidate to assume this position. Under Russia’s plan, such a person would give the go-ahead for establishing Russian military base(s) in the Mediterranean Sea region, allow Moscow’s firms to enter local oil sector, purchase Russian-made weapons and serve, alongside Egypt and Syria, as a strong link in the pro-Kremlin axis in the Middle East.
  • Yet it is now more likely to accomplish the minimum goal, that is to uphold Libya’s current turmoil. This provides the Kremlin with an opportunity to maintain its present-day role of a helpful partner for all parties to the conflict while boosting Russian room for manoeuvre in potential trade deal talks and making Libya a “powder keg” for EU Mediterranean countries. In this respect, Moscow will be capable of using the issue of illegal refugees as a bargaining chip in its Middle East game. Whoever can seize power over the Libyan coast or at least exert an influence on the one who is in charge of this territory, gains an extra advantage of blackmailing countries such as Italy.

Photo source: FUNCTION.MIL.RU

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