Russia fears disproportionate US role in Libya

Lavrov stressed the need to expedite the appointment of a permanent UN special representative to Libya, which Russia accuses the US of stalling.
Thursday 15/10/2020
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (L) and his Italian counterpart Luigi Di Maio (R) arrive to attend a news conference in Moscow on October 14. (AFP)
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (L) and his Italian counterpart Luigi Di Maio (R) arrive to attend a news conference in Moscow on October 14. (AFP)

MOSCOW –Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s statements on Wednesday reflected Moscow’s frustration with how the United States is shaping the political dynamics in Libya through its diplomatic efforts and the role of Acting UNSMIL Special Representative to Libya Stephanie Williams, whom Washington appears to support remaining in charge until a new executive authority is established in Libya.

Speaking at a joint news conference with his Italian counterpart Luigi Di Maio, Lavrov stressed the need to expedite the appointment of a permanent UN special representative to Libya, which Russia accuses the US of stalling.

He also spoke of the need to implement the United Nations’ resolution on Libya, noting that “all efforts to find a solution should go in the same direction.”

“All our efforts are aimed at ensuring that this resolution gets implemented. Therefore, numerous mediators are trying to contribute here,” he said.

Lavrov named mediators to the Libyan conflict as Italy, Russia, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia and Germany, which initiated the Berlin Conference.

“Now the most important task is to ensure that all these efforts go in the same direction,” he said, adding it is crucial that all Libyan parties “are involved in the political process for ensuring the balance of interests of all regions of Libya.”

According to the top Russian diplomat, all work to this end should be carried out under the auspices of the UN. He noted that following the meeting between Libyan rivals in Cairo, preparations were underway for a meeting in Geneva. He did not mention talks that will take place in Tunis in early November.

Many in Libya and elsewhere fear that Islamists will dominate the upcoming forum in Tunis because of the orientation of Tunisian Parliament Speaker Rached Ghannouchi, who has been accused of bias in favour of Libya’s Islamist-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) and its Turkish ally.

US players 

Williams has largely controlled the UN mission since she was appointed as deputy to former UN envoy Ghassan Salame, and her influence has grown even stronger since his resignation last March.

In addition to Williams, US Ambassador to Libya Richard Norland is playing a major role in shaping Libya’s political process, engaging in a flurry of diplomatic moves that recently brought him to France, Egypt, and Turkey.

Despite Russia being one of the most prominent foreign powers involved in the Libyan conflict through its support of the eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA), led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, the US has refused to recognise its position.

Last May, the Russian foreign ministry said that Washington had not responded to a proposal sent by Lavrov last December to establish an expert-level dialogue on a settlement in Libya.

“We would like to note that on December 10, 2019, during Sergey Lavrov’s working visit to Washington, Russia proposed holding an expert dialogue with the United States on the range of issues of mutual interest with a view to reaching a political settlement in the Libya crisis,” a Russian foreign ministry statement said.

“We did not receive a clear response at that time or later,” the statement added.

The United States and its allies in Libya, most of which are Islamist groups, launched a campaign in recent months against Russia, which has been accused of deploying Wagner mercenaries to ports and oil fields.

Fear of confriontation 

The US’s military command in Africa (AFRICOM) accused Russia of providing the LNA with MiG-29 and Sukhoi-24 fighters that were reportedly sent to the Al-Jufra air base in the centre of the country.

In recent months, a near-Western consensus has emerged to keep Russia and Turkey out of the Libyan crisis amid European fears that the country could go the same direction as Syria.

There are also concerns that confrontations between the LNA and GNA-allied militias would undermine efforts to reach a permanent ceasefire and form a national unity government.

These concerns increased after the GNA’s defence ministry called on its militias to prepare for an anticipated LNA attack on three cities in the west of the country.

Before that, both sides hinted at a return to confrontations, with LNA spokesman Ahmed Al-Mismari announcing that many fighters had been made ready for combat.

Mismari said at the time on his Facebook account that the MiG-23BN squadron is ready to carry out combat missions. This raised questions about whether the aircraft in the LNA’s possession were those that AFRICOM had accused Russia of deploying to Al-Jufra base in central Libya.

Since a ceasefire was announced in August, Turkey has continued to provide support to militias allied with the GNA — the political front of the country’s Islamist movement — including with weapons, according to Italian website Itamilradar, which specialises in monitoring military aircraft movements.

In early October, Itamilradar said that “despite Turkey’s involvement in the Caucasus and tensions with Greece, the Turkish intervention in Libya has not receded and the air bridge between Turkey and Libya continues.”