Libya has been locked in a state of violence and turmoil since 2011, when a bloody uprising ended with the ouster and death of longtime strongman Muammar Gaddafi. Since then, the country’s stark political divisions have yielded two rival seats of government: the Tobruk-based HoR in the east of the country and the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA).
The government in Tobruk was recognized by the international community prior to the formation of the Presidential Council – a body formed under the terms of the Libyan Political Agreement signed in December 2015. The Council carries out the functions of Libya’s head of state. Formally it is in command of the Libyan national army. The United Nations Security Council has endorsed the formation of the Presidency Council and recognized the Government of National Accord (GNA) as the sole legitimate government of Libya. The Presidential Council presides over the GNA.
To become a fully legitimate governing body, the GNA needs to be recognized by the HoR, which so far has refused to do so. One of the reasons cited is the presence of Islamists on the ranks of GNA. The MPs also say the extremists were imposed by the USA through pro-American Martin Kobler, Head of United Nations Support Mission in Libya. General Hafter Hafter has also lashed out at UN envoy Martin Kobler, accusing him of «meddling» in Libyan affairs.
The House of Representatives (HoR), known as the «Council of Representatives» (CoR), or the Libyan Parliament, is also an internationally recognized body elected to govern the country until a constitution is written, as defined by the draft constitution committee.
Late last year, Libya’s rival governments signed a UN-backed agreement to establish a unity government in an effort to resolve the country’s six-year political standoff. The UN – sponsored negotiations are underway to help Libya bring the two rival bodies together.
Huge chunks of Libyan territory are outside of government’s control administered by various Islamist, rebel and tribal militias. The only things really holding the country together are the central bank and the national oil company which are dividing money evenly among all the parties.
The Russian Federation has maintained contacts with both bodies in an effort to make them reconcile the differences and come to an agreement on forming one government to rule the country.
The planned visit is an event of great importance. With the battles waged to retake Aleppo, Raqqa and Mosul, the extremist groups, like Islamic State (IS) and Jabhat al Nusra (Jabhat Fatah al-Sham), will have to flee Syria and Iraq for Libya. Having moved to North Africa, they will join forces with Nigerian jihadist group Boco Haram and other extremist groups operating on the continent. There is a great chance the oil-rich Libya will become a new battlefield in the fight against terrorism.
In September, Libya’s military leader Khalifa Haftar, the commander of the Libyan National Army loyal to the House of Representatives, visited Russia to discuss prospects for bilateral cooperation.
Last month, Fayez al-Sarraj, Prime Minister of Libya’s UN-backed unity government, expressed his government’s willingness to step up security and military cooperation with Russia. The PM urged Moscow to use its international weight to help lift the ongoing arms embargo on Libya — and secure the release of frozen Libyan funds – to enable the country to overcome its current financial crisis.
Al-Sarraj also stressed the importance of Russia’s role in establishing «global equilibrium», while also welcoming the return of Russian companies to the troubled North African country. Ivan Molotkov, Russian Ambassador to Libya, responded stressing the desire of the Russian government to reactivate a host of cooperation agreements signed with Libya earlier and the willingness of Russian companies to return to Libya as the country’s security situation improves. Military aid can be provided if the UN lifts the arms embargo.
Russia, China, the UK and France along with some 15 other countries and international organizations said in May that they may approve exemptions to a UN arms embargo on Libya to supply weapons to the GNA headed by Fayez al-Sarraj.
The Libya’s proximity to Europe is a security concern for Europe, especially the Mediterranean states. The country is an ideal launching pad for terrorist attacks. Greater conflict could produce even more refugees. IS and other extremist groups further destabilize nearby countries such as Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt. A military intervention cannot be excluded. Geographically, Libya’s flat, open terrain lends itself more easily to troop movement and precision airstrikes than the mountainous areas of Syria.
The United States and its NATO allies have already been militarily involved in Libya with their special operation forces and drones operating in the country.
The Western interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya have all ended in disaster, with the military dispersed, governments disbanded, the judiciary dismantled and armed gangs and militias left free to run riot spreading anarchy around.
It’s indicative that the Libyan officials turn to Russia for help. The international community cannot leave the country alone but this time there should be no unilateral US or NATO operation. It should be an international effort undertaken upon a UN Security Council’s resolution or a request of the Libyan government. Aid packages and mediation activities have to be approved by the UN Security Council and conducted under international supervision – something unthinkable without Russia. Russia and the West face the common threat. The need to normalize the situation in Libya unites rather than divides them.
With Syria’s lessons learnt, and Donald Trump leading the United States, Libya could become a place where Russia and America join together in a UN-brokered effort. They can do it in Syria too. During the presidential race, the US president-elect said he would weigh an alliance with Russia against Islamic State militants.