Moscow says outside intervention changed balance of power in Libya

Not all experts share Washington’s warnings about Russia’s military role.
Friday 29/05/2020
A file picture shows Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) and French President Emmanuel Macron at a conference on Libya in Berlin, last January.( AFP)
A file picture shows Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) and French President Emmanuel Macron at a conference on Libya in Berlin, last January.( AFP)

MOSCOW--Moscow said Friday that outside intervention has “changed the balance of power” in Libya and that the conflict should be resolved through “diplomatic means.”

Russia’s foreign ministry said the situation in Libya was continuing to deteriorate and that a ceasefire there was in tatters, the RIA news agency reported.

The ministry’s spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, said outside help to players in the conflict had altered the balance of power on the ground in Libya.

Libya is divided between forces loyal to the Islamist-backed Government of National Accord (GNA), led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj and the Libyan National Army (LNA), led by Field-Marshal Khalifa Haftar.

Turkey’s increased military involvement in Libya, through the sending of military and intelligence personnel to oversee operations, delivery of air drones and dispatching of hundreds of mercenaries from Syria, is seen to have tipped the balance in favour of the GNA’s forces, which on May 18 recaptured the strategically located al-Watiya airbase.

Zakharova said Russia is in contact with all sides in the conflict and will insist on it being resolved through diplomatic means, she was cited as saying.

Andrei Krasov, the deputy head of the defence committee in the lower house of Russia’s parliament, said earlier this week that “Russia’s position is well known,” and called for “ending the bloodshed in Libya.” The opposed factions, he said, should “refrain from using weapons and sit at the negotiating table.”

Speaking Tuesday on the pan-Arab channel Al Arabiya, LNA spokesman Ahmed al-Mismari said it was strange that the US “mentioned Russian planes but made no mention of those of Turkey.”

The US military accused Russia on Tuesday of deploying “fourth generation” fighter planes to Libya to support the LNA in its offensive on the capital Tripoli.

Russia flew MiG 29 and SU-24 fighter planes to a Libyan airbase escorted by other Russian fighter jets, the US military said on Wednesday.

“Russian military aircraft are likely to provide close air support and offensive fire,” United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) said in a statement posted on its website and on Twitter.

Some of Washington’s analysts share the Pentagon’s concern about a wider Russian role, but others think Moscow is unlikely to increase its military involvement.

“Not only could Russian air power change the military balance in Libya itself, but this could be the first step in a gradual escalation to what eventually becomes a permanent Russian military deployment in the country,” Michael Kofman, director of the Russia studies programme at the Center for Naval Analysis told the New York Times.

Other experts say that while Russia wants to influence the political process in Libya, it has little interest in directly taking part in a military showdown.

Some link Russia’s moves to its promotion of wider regional interests in the Middle East and Europe, including an economic turf war with Turkey after Ankara signed deals with the Libya’s GNA to tap into disputed gas resources in the Mediterranean. Ankara’s designs in the East Mediterranean region are also opposed by France, Greece and Cyprus as well as a number of Arab countries.

“What is clear is that Moscow is trying hard to exploit the world’s most chaotic conflicts as a way of  reaping geopolitical rewards elsewhere,” wrote Libyan analyst Anas El Gomati in Foreign Policy magazine.