The secret of the flight from Libya to Istanbul

The secret of the flight from Libya to Istanbul

The rapid developments in Libya are currently the main agenda of international relations. The following phenomena are amongst the important aspects of the issue: the achievements of the Government of National Accord (GNA) in the front with the support of Turkey, Haftar’s seeking ceasefire as a result of his being forced to retreat, the Cairo Declaration that was signed in Egypt, the US’ return to Libya in accordance with pushing for a puppet state in Syria once again, and the phone conservation between Erdoğan and Trump.

Meanwhile, there are important developments within the Russia-Libya(GNA)-Turkey axis.

Two arrested Russian citizens

There are two Russian citizens detained in Tripoli that have been at the center of a great deal of controversy between the parties involved. On May 16th 2019, two employees of the Russian Foundation for the Protection of National Values (RFPN), sociologist Maxim Shugaley and translator Samer Hasan Ali Sueyfan (Russian and Jordanian citizen), were charged with intervening in the presidential elections. They were arrested and jailed at the Mitiga Prison.

Russia has attempted to secure their release at the highest level.

Turkey was also asked to help resolve the situation, but no results have yet been obtained.

Changing balances

Turkey has changed the balance completely through its involvement in the civil war in Libya On November 27, 2019 the Turkey-Libya agreement began narrowing the maneuvering area of the Atlantic front in the Eastern Mediterranean. The negative effect of Haftar not signing the ceasefire agreement upon Russia during the negotiations in Moscow in January, the promotion of the cooperation between the US and Haftar during that period, and the clarification of the confrontation in Libya all caused Moscow to reconsider its policies in regard to Libya.

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The Russian side suggested that it could initiate a cooperation process with the GNA if its citizens were released. The first steps of this change in the strategic plan were based on this issue.

The developments within the last week have been significant and indicate a serious turning point for the region.

A delegation from the GNA in Moscow

On June 3, the Deputy Prime Minister of Libya’s Government of National Accord Ahmed Maiteeq and GNA Foreign Minister Mohammed Taher Siala visited Moscow. During the visit, a series of talks took place with Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Ministry of Defense and officials of security units. The GNA delegation was accepted for the first time in Moscow at such a high level.


In the official statement declared after the meeting, the Russian Foreign Ministry pointed that the main obstacle to the development of cooperation based on mutual interest was the two Russian citizens detained in Tripoli. It meant that a new era would begin in the relations between the two governments if two Russian citizens were released.

Signals of cooperation between the two governments also came from Libya. Deputy Prime Minister Ahmed Maiteeq stated that they believed that Russia would be a very important partner in the establishment of stability in Libya, according to RIA news agency. In the Libyan official’s view, Russian diplomacy played an important role in sharply reducing the military tension.

Maiteeq continued to express such sentiments after he had returned to his country. Maiteeq identified Turkey as a ‘strategic ally’ and stated that ‘Russia can be an effective ally’ during an interview in February.

An airplane departing from Libya

These mutual diplomatic steps were the precursor to new developments in the Moscow-Tripoli-Ankara axis. Al-Arabiya reported that Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj would go to Moscow on June 7. According to sources, talks were expected to be held on June 8. It was even noted that Sarraj would first come to Istanbul on June 7 and then go to Moscow. The main issue was the fact that Sarraj might free the two Russian prisoners held in Tripoli.

According to the records of international aviation agencies, an airplane that departed from Libya landed in Istanbul on June 7. However, the plane then returned to Libya instead of flying to Moscow.

No statement was made from the Turkish officials regarding the delegation from Libya. There was not even a report of the situation in the Turkish press. The spokesman of Kremlin, Dmitriy Peskov, on the other hand,stated that the meeting scheduled for that day would not take place.

The news reported by TASS news agency

Russian news agency, TASS reported the news regarding the subject on June 9, based on its sources in Tripoli. It was stated in the news that Russian detainees flew to Istanbul along with Sarraj, but returned to Libya on June 8. TASS’s source added that Russian citizens were no longer held in prison and were placed in a villa in Tripoli.

According to the news, the Russians were in good conditions, special attention was paid to their nutrition and safety. In the words of the source, “everything was fine”. The report naturally drew a great deal of attention.

Ankara-Moscow telephone diplomacy

Diplomacy between the two countries also began to pick up. Telephone conversations took place between Çavuşoğlu and Lavrov on June 8, and between Erdoğan and Putin on June 10. Libya was naturally the focal point.

Turkish Minister of Defense Hulusi Akar explained that Russia had rejected some information and allegations about its military presence in the region, therefore, instead of discussing this, the problems need to be solved by negotiating with Russia in a way similar to the way they were discussed in Syria. This is a potential answer to allegations of Russian mercenaries and warplanes being sent to Libya, which he was asked about during a television program on June 10.

On June 14, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Defense Minister Sergei Shoygu will visit Turkey for consultations on regional issues, the press service of the Russian Foreign Ministry reported.

Is Turkey a mediator?

These developments brought forward many questions:

Who was on the airplane that departed from Libya and arrived in Istanbul on June 7? Was the ultimate aim to land in Moscow? Why was it abandoned? If not, why did it land in Turkey? Were the detainees brought to Istanbul? If they were brought, did they return to Libya? Or were they left in Istanbul? Will Turkey act as the mediator in this regard?

The first step of the ‘Astana model’ in Libya

In the coming days, the answers to these questions will be quite decisive in the developments on the ‘Ankara-Moscow-Tripoli’ line. This is not just about the release of two Russian citizens: it will be important in terms of strategy. This is a key moment for the establishment of the Astana model in the Eastern Mediterranean and Libya.

Is an Ankara-Moscow-Cairo axis a possible solution in Libya?



Mehmet Perinçek

Historian and political scientist (Türkiye)

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April 2024