Turkey’s intervention changed balance of power in Libya, says Russia

Russia has said that outside intervention has “changed the balance of power” in Libya’s civil conflict, referring to Turkish military operations in the country, the Arab Weekly said. 

The intervention meant that the situation in Libya continued to deteriorate, and the conflict should be resolved by “diplomatic means,” Arab Weekly quoted Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for Russia’s Defence Ministry, as saying.

Turkey is backing the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) headed by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj in its fight against rebel General Khalifa Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) forces, which are supported by Russia, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt, among others.

Turkey’s increased military involvement in Libya since December 2019 - through the deployment of military and intelligence personnel, delivery of drones, and dispatching of hundreds of mercenaries from Syria - has recently tipped the balance of the conflict in favour of the GNA’s forces. 

GNA forces won a string of victories over the LNA in the west of the country earlier this month, using Turkish drones to destroy newly arrived Russian air defence systems to seize key towns and, on May 18, to capture the Al-Watiya airbase, which Haftar's forces had been using as their main point of operations, forcing them into retreat.   

Andrei Krasov, the deputy head of a defence committee in Russia’s parliament, earlier this week called for “ending the bloodshed in Libya,” the Arab Weekly reported. 

The opposing sides should “refrain from using weapons and sit at the negotiating table,” he said.

Turkey and Russia made a joint appeal for a ceasefire in January but their calls had been ignored by Haftar - who pressed ahead with his offensive to capture Tripoli.

Last week it was reported that several Russian-made fighter jets had been spotted at LNA air bases, raising the prospect of an escalation in the conflict – or perhaps signalling to Turkish-backed forces that they had advanced far enough. 

A United States military statement last week on the reported arrival of the fighter jets quoted U.S. Air Force General Jeff Harrigian as warning that, if Russia seized bases on Libya’s coast, it would “create very real security concerns on Europe’s southern flank.”

Michael Kofman, director of the Russia studies programme at the Center for Naval Analysis told the New York Times: “Not only could Russian air power change the military balance in Libya itself, but this could be the first step in a gradual escalation to what eventually becomes a permanent Russian military deployment in the country.” 

Libyan analyst Anas El Gomati, writing in Foreign Policy magazine, said that it was clear that “Moscow is trying hard to exploit the world’s most chaotic conflicts as a way of reaping geopolitical rewards elsewhere.” 

Other experts say that while Russia wants to influence the political process in Libya, it has little interest in directly taking part in a military showdown, the Arab Weekly said. 

Some link Russia’s moves in Libya to its promotion of wider regional interests, especially after Turkey signed deals with the Libya’s GNA to tap into disputed gas resources in the Mediterranean. Ankara’s gas exploration in the eastern Mediterranean is also opposed by France, Greece and Cyprus, as well as a number of Arab countries.

Speaking on Tuesday on the pan-Arab channel Al Arabiya, LNA spokesman Ahmed al-Mismari said it was strange that the U.S. had “mentioned Russian planes but made no mention of those of Turkey.”