Political Observation - Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov and Defence Minister Shoygu Visit to Ankara Postponed Amidst Accelerating Events in Libya and Challenges Undermining Bashar Assad’s Regime

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

Political Observation - Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov and Defence Minister Shoygu Visit to Ankara Postponed Amidst Accelerating Events in Libya and Challenges Undermining Bashar Assad’s Regime 

Russian foreign and defence ministers postponed their visit to Ankara to debate the Syrian and Libyan files one day after they had announced the visit scheduled for Sunday 14 June, following a telephone call by Turkey’s foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu. Although Cavusoglu denied the presence of any differences in the Libyan file, his tone however denoted otherwise; he said: “There are no problems in terms of the basic principles in negotiations with the Russians. The table has not been shaken for this reason or that and we need to talk about further details.” 

With regard to the “basic principles”, namely initiating the political process which this time enjoys an American backing reflected in allowing Turkey to support the Government of National Accord (GNA), downsizing the help given to Haftar via Egypt, Russia and the UAE, marginalising France and propagating the initiative of Aquila Saleh that involves establishing a presidential council consisting of a president and two vice-presidents selected by the three Libyan provinces, namely Tripoli, Brega and Fezzan, in addition to initiating the 5+5 Committee stipulated by the Berlin Conference. 

There are no disagreements between Russia and Turkey with regard to the aforementioned; but with Erdoğan’s persistence on removing Haftar and al-Sarraj’s government’s refusal to negotiate with him, a rift between Ankara and Moscow arose since keeping Haftar would void Erdoğan’s achievements and the government of al-Sarraj of their substance and would deprive them of the limelight. Meanwhile, Russia is attempting to maintain Haftar since no one would accept to fill his role apart from Aquila Saleh whose case is included in the details to be debated according to the statement of Cavusoglu. This means Haftar has lost his chance of remaining within the political scene, especially with the presence of indications alluding to that effect such as the scathing attack on him by a pro-government parliamentarian in the Egyptian regime who accused him of squandering Egyptian interests in Libya.

The major losers in the Libyan file are France and Europe whose southern flank has become exposed to security threats and Russian and Turkish influence; this has given America the opportunity to handle the European states’ interests and security which led Macron to cry foul and accuse Turkey of exploiting her NATO membership to expand in Africa. France has blown her chances of being accepted by the al-Sarraj government after it had sided with Haftar and after al-Sarraj had weakened Europe’s role by sending a letter to the UN Security Council in which he rejected the EU’s IRINI mission to monitor Libya’s UN arms embargo under the pretext of not having consulted his government as stipulated by UN Security Council resolutions. 

As for Russo-Turkish relations, Putin is not expected to gamble and lose Turkey; he wants to keep her at an equal distance from him and from America and NATO since he deems the economic, political and military cooperation he has achieved with Turkey a break of the siege imposed on him. 

Hence, Russia will not probably express eagerness to maintain Khalifah Haftar since her presence in the Libyan file could be maintained through Aquila Saleh who has given few hints that respond to Russia’s aspirations and conforms with the overall American aims. 

24 Shawwal 1441h
16 June 2020