Turkey says NATO member France pushing for bigger Russian role in Libya

Turkey has accused fellow NATO member France of trying to increase Russia's role in the Libyan conflict, despite the fact that the alliance regards Moscow as a hostile power, state-run Anadolu news agency said. 

“NATO sees Russia as a threat on the hand, but NATO ally France is trying to increase Russia's presence in Libya on the other,” Anadolu reported Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu as saying in a joint news conference with his Hungarian counterpart Peter Szijjarto on Tuesday. 

Anadolu did not cite details on how France is supposed to working to increase Russia’s presence in Libya. 

But it quoted Çavuşoğlu as saying that France supported "a putschist, a pirate, Khalifa Haftar" - referring to the rebel general leading the eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA) in its fight against the Turkish-backed, United Nations-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA). 

Turkey stepped up its military support to the Tripoli-based GNA in December 2019, sending drones and other military hardware to Libya, along with thousands of Syrian mercenaries, many of whom have links to Islamist militant groups.

The GNA has won a string of major victories since May, and has now recaptured almost all the territories Haftar’s forces had previously taken in his bid to capture Tripoli, which he launched in April 2019.

Haftar’s forces are backed by France, Russia, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates, among others.

Cavusoglu also said that, even though Turkey and Russia back different sides in Libya’s conflict, they are working together to achieve a ceasefire.

Tensions have been rising between France and Turkey in recent weeks over the Libyan conflict and a June 10 incident in the eastern Mediterranean in which France claimed Turkish frigates exercised “extreme aggression’’ towards a French warship enforcing a U.N. arms embargo on Libya.

French President Emmanuel Macron said on Monday that Turkey was importing jihadists into war-torn Libya, labelling Ankara’s intervention as criminal. “I think it’s an historic and criminal responsibility for a country which claims to be a NATO member,” he said.

Hami Aksoy, Turkey’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, said last week that Macron had had an “eclipse of the mind” over France’s failure to acknowledge its intervention in the conflict.