European Diplomats Lobby Russia Over Haftar
As Russia overtly demonstrates its support for Khalifa Haftar by flying wounded Libyan National Army (LNA) fighters to Russia for treatment, European diplomats appear to be scrambling to convince Russia to support Haftar within the framework of the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA) in a bid to prevent Haftar from seeking political power in Libya by military means.
Haftar has long rejected any involvement in the UN-backed LPA, and is keen to assert his authority across Libya through military means without the need for compromise or civilian oversight. However, while Haftar has a great deal of power in eastern Libya, his forces are weak in western Libya, home to the Government of National Accord (GNA) and powerful Misratan militias who are old enemies of Haftar, and it is unlikely he could take control of Tripoli and surrounding areas without a great deal of external military (and political) support. However, the current concern is that Russia, Egypt and potentially the US may be convinced to provide such support to Haftar, despite the prolonged conflict and instability that this would likely create in western Libya.
Such chaos would impact European countries more acutely by aggravating the humanitarian crisis and leading to greater numbers of migrants and refugees attempting to flee Libyan shores to Europe. As a result, the UN and European nations are relying on Russia’s ability to influence Haftar’s actions by trying to convince Moscow that the best solution is for Haftar to access power through an amended LPA.
The Italian foreign minister has recently met with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, to discuss Libya, and the Guardian reports that a second meeting is planned between the two on 16 February in Bonn, Germany. It is expected that Russia’s role in Libya will also come up in talks in London today between the Italian PM Paolo Gentiloni and UK PM Theresa May, while last week UK foreign secretary Boris Johnson welcomed discussions with Russia about a future role for Haftar in Libya.
On 8 February, Reuters reported that UN Envoy for Libya Martin Kobler told the UN Security Council that he had just returned from a trip to Moscow and he was confident that within weeks a format could be agreed to make changes to the LPA including the role of Haftar. Reports that Russia expects prime minister of the GNA, Fayez al-Serraj to visit Moscow later this month appear to indicate that Russia may be taking notice, but may equally be more indicative of Russia’s increasingly influential role within Libya.