January 16, 2017
Libya - How U.S.-Russian Cooperation May (Re-)Unite The Country
By Richard Galustian
On January 20th Trump will be sworn in as President. US Foreign Policy will crystallize when the full cabinet is approved by the U.S. Congress. The Russians will try and make their moves on the world chess board during this transition period to further their interests.
As far as Libya is concerned will Russia’s now overt support for the LNA (Libyan National Army) and 74 years old General Khalifa Haftar, a former(?) CIA asset, cause a problem? The U.S. has up to now supported the UN installed GNA (Government of National Accord) which has little following in the country. Could Russia's LNA support put it at odds with the incoming Trump administration or will this be a welcome and calculated play from Trump's perspective?
Haftar and the LNA are also supported by Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. Last week Blackwater founder Erik Prince allegedly provided private mercenary pilots in armed agricultural aircraft to bomb Western Libya's Islamist extremists. Prince's mercenary air force is paid by the UAE. He is a brother Betsy DeVos, the U.S. president-elect Donald Trump’s nominee to be secretary of education.
What will change as a result in the complicated ground war in Libya between the various warring factions in south, east and west Libya?
What of ISIS relatively small presence in the Sirte and Sabratha regions?
What of the tentative potential thawing of US/Russia relations put on edge by last week's inevitably doubtful allegations of Trump's being blackmailed by Russia.
The first three months following the inauguration will be the most telling.
Until then, let us hazard a guess as to what will unfold:
One indication is certain. Washington interests now favor a military solution to the quagmire in Libya that involves Khalifa Hafter who would become part of some sort of leadership coalition or council. But that does not mean that it would favor the mercurial Haftar. He is not pliable enough to be a reliable (U.S. proxy-)leader. Serious Libyan commentators agree that talks now must include all ground players, even former Gaddafi officials, if the country is to be united.
However, the eradication of ISIS in Libya is still paramount. That joint desire could put America and Russia on the same side in Libya.
Russia has shown her strong willingness to support Hafter on two recent occasions; at the Moscow foreign ministry in mid December, and again, last week when Hafter was helicoptered to the neutral waters of the Mediterranean Sea, outside Libyan territorial boundaries, by Russian military, for a video conference call with Moscow's senior officials on board a Russian Warship. This behavior indicates a clear willingness to support Hafter's Libyan National Army, as the legitimate military force of the elected Parliament, the House of Representatives (HOR) in Tobruk. For some it's even indicative of Russian support to Hafter with or without the HOR's backing.
Signs now seem to indicate an imminent military attempt by the LNA and Hafter to move West and take Tripoli.
Russia’s rationale for involvement was summarized by Foreign Minister Lavrov’s categorical statement on December 2 that it “does not want Libya to end up like Syria, as a failed state.”
But the motivation undoubtedly is one of self-interest. As with Syria, Russia sees an opportunity to gain new increased and important influence in an Arab state and I judge that this is better achieved before President Trump takes the full reigns of power; out trumping Trump so to speak. That's why I think internal fighting in Libya will escalate very soon.
Obama’s self professed greatest foreign policy mistake in office was the failure to quell the post-revolution chaos in Libya. What better way for Trump to truly legitimize his position and silence the naysayers than strategically achieving peace in Libya and an end to ISIS's influence in Libya via a Russian alliance?
It is no secret Trump has announced his desire to cooperate with Putin, and he actually may view Russia’s very public support of Hafter as an asset rather than a liability, securing the region, making an unlikely ally and increasing the popularity of his administration in one stroke.
This position assumes that the West will abandon its failed attempt to shore up the UN’s puppet government (GNA). It and its leader Serraj are viewed as wholly illegitimate and inept by the country's populace. It is time for EU/UN diplomats and politicians to recognize this as so and adapt to change and quickly.
Russian made helicopters and arms were delivered to LNA indirectly and covertly via Russia's ally's the UAE and Egypt and they proved crucial in repelling attacks by militias at the key central oil ports, seized by LNA in September 2016.
Earlier this month, Russia publicly supported lifting the UN arms embargo. The West up until recently only wanted the embargo lifted for GNA militias. Presumably, if Western Powers attempted to lift sanctions for only the GNA, Russia’s UNSC vote would be "Njet."
Therefore the LNA would appear to be the only entity that will be supported by the international community including Russia.
On the other hand another critical factor is Oil. Russia has an option of buying directly from Cyrenaica, (the historic entity of what is now east Libya), challenging western powers to intercept its tankers. A potential superpower flashpoint.
Cyrenica also wants its own flag as well as a new national anthem. This would in my opinion certainly lead to Libya becoming two (or three) separate countries, east and west (and south) Libya. This would follow historic precedence back to the former Greek and Roman provinces.
Structural and mismanagement issues remain and heighten internal tensions. For example GECOL (General Electricity Company of Libya) has all but collapsed as has electricity to the entire country, Combined with water distribution shortages and an unusually intense cold spell, the people's patience is at an end. The country could now completed dissolve and fall into even deeper chaos.
A wild card remains - the US to drop support for the GNA in its current form and shift it to the LNA making it the undoubtedly strongest force in the country.
US good relations with Putin and Moscow could well see Russia gaining a chunk of influence in Libya at presumably the expense of the Italians and British with the French seemingly solely interested in southern Libya.
All will be clear very soon as, I believe, internal fighting will escalate considerably. A peaceful negotiated settlement between the warring Libyan parties seems now very remote.