Russia, Turkey step up as key players in Libya conflict as EU, U.S. practically sidelined

Turkey and Russia have emerged as the key players backing rival factions in Libya as the European Union, the United States and China have been effectively sidelined in the country’s conflict, Alternet said on Saturday.

While the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Russia, and Turkey have all made a play in the Libyan conflict, Alternet said, the Turkish and Russian presidents have assertively thrown their weight between opposing forces.

"Moscow and Ankara, fighting for influence, oil and a bigger Mediterranean footprint, have now also squared off in North Africa. Libya is the new theatre for both soldiers of fortune and modern imperial forces," it said.

"Two major fighting forces act as Turkish and Russian proxies," it said.

Libya has been split between the Government of National Accord (GNA), led by Fayez al-Sarraj in Tripoli and recognised by the U.N., and the Tobruk-based government, led by rebel general Khalifa Haftar, the de facto ruler of eastern Libya and head of his self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) since 2014.

Haftar, who has been leading an assault to topple the GNA in Tripoli since April of last year, has received support from Egypt, the UAE, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Russia, while Turkey and Qatar back the GNA.

"Both Russia and Turkey want to take advantage of a dysfunctional and shrinking European Union, a solipsistic America and a China focused on consolidating power in its own neighbourhood first," Alternet said.

Erdoğan has also recently set his sights on extending Turkish soft power in Africa with his expansionist visions of reviving the Ottoman Empire. Turkey has established high-level strategic cooperation councils, in addition to trade and economic partnerships with several countries across Africa.

"Turkey’s overarching motivation for more grounded relations with African nations can be attributed to mainly economic purposes. Africa has untapped natural resources that countries like Turkey would want to utilise for its manufacturing industries, and African governments with their higher rates of youth unemployment are interested in Turkey’s investment opportunities, infrastructure and job creation," Zakariya Hussein said in an article for Middle East Monitor on Saturday.

Turkey has managed to avoid becoming embroiled in many of Africa’s political quagmires, as Ankara established diplomatic relations with 41 African countries, by focusing on direct aid, infrastructure and transportation projects, as well as mutually beneficial economic partnerships, Hussein said.

Meanwhile, Erdoğan's grab for influence in the eastern Mediterranean is also part of a drive to have a larger presence in the region vis-à-vis Ankara's rivals, he said.

“Now, of course, Libya is one of the key North African countries, and its relations amidst Turkey go back to centuries. But besides this, I think two main reasons add to the Turkish intervention: the first is related to the regional rivalry with the KSA (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia) – UAE – Egypt axis, who Turkey is at odds with. Whereas Turkey supports the UN-admitted government [headed] by al-Sarraj, the three countries back Haftar. And Turkey does not want to lose Libya (to) them,” Hussein quoted researcher and analyst Said Elhaj as saying.

The second reason behind Turkey's Libya intervention is related to energy security, according to Elhaj.

"Tukey is an energy-importing country and was excluded in many agreements that shaped the shares of the eastern Mediterranean countries of economic regions and thus natural gas fields," he said.