The recent conference held in the German capital has proven that only Turkey and Russia are in a position to negotiate a peaceful settlement in Libya. Peace talks were held this Sunday as both sides of the conflict in Libya came together in Berlin. As a continuation of the talks on January 13 in Moscow, the two central opposing forces in Libya, the Head of the Government of National Reconciliation Fayez al-Sarraj and the Commander of the Libyan National Army General Khalifa Haftar met yet again to work toward a settlement.
The meeting was moderated by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and the main participants were Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Russian President Vladimir Putin. The presidents of Turkey and Russia had a special meeting in Berlin, where they discussed the results of the Moscow talks before the conference started.
Given the historical importance of the outcome of the dialogue, it is unsurprising that the main geopolitical players from various regions attended the meeting. The list of participants included Egypt (President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi), the UAE (Crown Prince of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan), Algeria (President Abdelmadjid Tebboune), Republic of Congo (President Denis Sassou Nguesso), China (Director of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission Office of CPC Yang Jiechi), the US (State Secretary Mike Pompeo), France (President Emmanuelle Macron), Great Britain (Prime Minister Boris Johnson) and Italy (Giuseppe Conte). Representatives of the UN (including the Secretary General Antonio Guterres), the EU, the African Union and the Arab League.
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On the eve of the meeting, the possibility of expanding the format of negotiations to include Qatar, Tunisia and Greece was also discussed. They did not join the talks, but it is possible that some of these countries will join the peace settlement process under the auspices of Ankara and Moscow.
Decisions and results
The participants of the Berlin Conference on Libya adopted a communique. Antonio Guterres and Angela Merkel outlined the main points.1)
There are no military solutions to the issue.
A call was made for all countries to refrain from interference in the internal affairs of Libya, including the supply of weaponry and military equipment.
Libyan representatives agreed to form a five+five military commission (with five members from each side), and named the participants. The commission will monitor the implementation of the truce. In the near future, the commission will meet in Geneva.
This is the only truly concrete result of the conference. However, according to a leaked draft of the results of Moscow talks, the idea was discussed at negotiations in the Russia capital organized by Turkey and Russia. Sarraj signed the document immediately while General Khalifa Haftar took some time to think. In Berlin, he provided the names of those who will join this commission.
According to some sources, the participants of the Berlin conference also discussed broader political processes and the way towards new elections (both presidential and parliamentarian) in Libya, the fight against terrorism and strategies for the fair and transparent redistribution of national wealth (hydrocarbon export revenues). At present, the GNA mostly benefit from the sales, despite the fact that main oil fields are controlled by their opponents.
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New wave of confrontation
The confrontation in Libya began in 2011 after the overthrow and assassination of Muammar al-Gaddafi, after which the situation spiraled out of control and began to involve regional players. Against the backdrop of a fierce struggle to govern Tripoli, the ensuing chaos was exploited by ISIS terrorists who activated terrorist cells on a regional scale. On December 17, 2015, the “Libyan Political Agreement” was signed, but did not stop violence in the country.
By 2017, Libya had established a fragile system of dual power: the Government of National Accord in Tripoli, which garnered international support (including the UN), had settled in the western part of the country, while the east came to be controlled by an interim government in Tobruk, led by Field Marshal Haftar.
All subsequent attempts to unify Libya and end the conflict (negotiations in the UAE, France and Italy) proved unsuccessful.
A new wave of confrontation began in April 2019, when Haftar’s army launched an offensive on Tripoli. Dozens of people (fighters and civilians) were killed, and more than 2000 people were wounded.
Both sides of the Libyan conflict are supported by different regional players. Turkey and Qatar support the government in Tripoli, while the government in Tobruk is supported by France, the UAE, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Russia partially supports Haftar as a force opposed to radical Islamists, but maintains contacts with the GNA. Italy, on the other hand, is closer to the GNA, but maintains contacts with General Haftar as well. The US (at least formally) hasn’t taken a side in the conflict, and remains in communication with all of the parties.
Turkey concluded a strategic military cooperation agreement with the GNA on November 26 and began troop movement into the area the following January. Erdogan has said that Turkish troops are not tasked with fighting, but rather with helping coordinate and providing security.
Erdogan took the initiative in December to discuss the situation in Libya with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin. On January 8, the two presidents met in Istanbul where they agreed on a joint action plan, the main point of which was initiating the truce in Libya that had been agreed upon on December 12. Turkey and Russia, using their influence on the parties to the conflict, had convinced both sides to assent to the truce.
On January 13, negotiations to resolve the Libyan conflict were held in Moscow with the mediation of Turkey and Russia. Both Khalifa Haftar and Fayez al-Sarraj took part in them. The Foreign and Defence Ministers of Turkey and Russia acted as mediators.
Thus, Ankara and Moscow gradually became the main mediators in the settlement process. It is symbolic that as soon as they took on the role of peacekeepers, the Libyan negotiations escaped their deadlock.
The long and detailed negotiations in Moscow on January 13 became the main starting point for settling the domestic political situation in Libya. Until the end of the negotiations in Moscow there was no certainty regarding the Berlin Conference. Only at the end of the day on January 13 did the German government announce the exact date. It is quite possible that if it was not for the Turkish-Russian initiative, it might not have taken place at all.
The outcome of the conference in Berlin
The conference in Berlin was a demonstration (willing or unwilling) of the international community’s recognition of the importance of Turkey and Russia in the mediating process. Less than a week after the two presidents met, Turkey and Russia were able to bring together the leaders of the opposing sides in Moscow. This historic meeting was a prologue to the Berlin conference. The documents that were considered in Moscow formed the basis for the agreements achieved in Berlin. The truce demonstrates that positive experience of cooperation Ankara and Moscow gained in Syria can be applied to the settlement of the Libyan conflict.
However, compared to the negotiations in Moscow, nothing fundamentally new was agreed on in Berlin.
This once again demonstrates that other participants in the conference, primarily the European powers and the United States, are unable to make a positive contribution in the inter-Libyan settlement process. Their presence could not lead to a breakthrough and advance the peace process beyond the point that Turkey and Russia had already reached without their help.
It is important to note another important drawback of the conference in Berlin. Although Fayez Sarraj and Khalifa Haftar had arrived in Berlin, they were not full participants in the conference. Initially, the organizers did not intend to invite them and changed their minds only after negotiations in Moscow.
Turkey and Russia have organized everything for both sides of the conflict during the negotiation process. At one point in Berlin, the Libyans were actually thrown out of the negotiation process. Such an approach will definitely be perceived as the imposition of foreign powers and a form of neocolonialism.
Now, much depends on the GNA and the LNA. Turkey and Russia have demonstrated their commitment to peace and pursuing an inclusive approach that takes into account the interests of both internal and external actors. General Haftar’s letter to Vladmir Putin, where the commander of LNA said that he is ready for a new round of Moscow talks, shows that that approach is working.
However, there is always a danger that forces worried about collaboration between these two major powers will try to undermine the peace process. In such a case, a peace settlement in Libya will depend on how successfully Ankara and Moscow combat the negative influence of third parties to the Libyan conflict.
The mixed results of the Berlin Conference show that it is in the interests of the people of Libya to find a peaceful settlement and that the role of Ankara and Moscow in the region should be expanded. These two countries combined efforts are the only things that will lead to any tangible results.