Turkey, Russia seek to carve up Libya with political solution

Russia and Turkey are seeking to carve Libya into their own spheres of influence by reaching a political solution to the conflict in the oil-rich North African country, Al Jazeera said.

In a phone call late last month, Ankara and Moscow’s foreign ministers urged the warring sides in Libya to cease fighting and return to the negotiating table.

That call came after a string of battlefield victories in May for the Turkish-backed, Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA).

The GNA has turned the tables on the offensive launched last year by the rebel general Khalifa Haftar and his self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA), backed by Russia, the United Arab Emirates, and Egpyt, among others.

Reports of the arrival of Russian fighter jets late last month were interpreted by some analysts as Moscow signalling to Turkish-backed forces that they had advanced far enough and as a move to cement Russia’s position ahead of possible peace talks.   

"It is not a sign of its willingness to engage in a Syria-style military intervention in Libya, as Moscow has privately acknowledged that Haftar is unlikely to reverse the tide of the Turkish offensive," Samuel Ramani, a researcher at Oxford University, told Al Jazeera.

Attempts by Russia and Turkey to broker a ceasefire in Libya in January failed when Haftar refused to accept it and pressed ahead with his offensive. 

The GNA has said that it will not negotiate with Haftar now.

But Turkish columnist Semih İdiz told Al Jazeera the country's vast territory means that it is unlikely for Turkey to keep pursuing a military strategy.

"It [Turkey] will find itself in a similar position to that which it is facing in Syria, where Ankara does not recognise Assad despite more and more countries coming around to acknowledging that the Syrian president is part of the equation," he said.

"Eventually, Turkey will have to accept this, and it already has. There are indirect talks between the government and the Assad regime."

İdiz said that Turkey wants Haftar out of the equation to secure a controversial maritime border demarcation agreement it signed with the GNA that expanded its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in the eastern Mediterranean to support its hydrocarbon drilling projects. 

"While Ankara acknowledges that a [peace] deal could move in the direction of a federation and that Turkey will have influence in the west, there is nothing to say that its strategic objectives in the eastern Mediterranean will be fulfilled as a result of the political agreement that might be reached,” İdiz said. 

Mohammed Ali Abdallah, an adviser to the GNA for U.S. affairs, told Al Jazeera that Turkey's maritime agreement is "of no value to it if the Libyan government is unable to control its entire shoreline".

Osama al-Sharif, a columnist writing in Arab News, said that Libya’s protracted nine-year old conflict is turning into another Syria - ironically with the same two main actors, Russia and Turkey, holding the balance of power and supporting opposite sides. 

Turkey and Russia had been at odds in Syria, before reaching a deal to manage that crisis, al-Sharif said. 

“Now a similar scenario is unfolding in Libya and it underlines the new geopolitical reality, which is marked by the lack of a U.S. strategy and European divisions,” he said.

Al-Sharif said it is clear that Turkey’s objectives in Libya are long term and that the United States appears to be content with Ankara’s role in Libya at present. 

“For now, the possibility of Turkey and Russia clashing directly in Libya seems remote. The more plausible scenario is that the two powers will find a way to impose a ceasefire, backed by almost all regional and international players, by controlling their proxies while seeking to reach an understanding on reviving political efforts,” he said.

“It is Russia and Turkey that appear to be in the driving seat now, and each is able to implement its own self-serving agenda.”