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ERDOGAN: TURKEY IS READY TO INVADE LIBYA TO FIGHT HAFTAR FORCES

Turkey can deploy troops in Libya if invited by the Government of National Accord (an ‘internationally recognized’ entity that controls Tripoli and its surroundings) there, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told state-run TRT television on December 9.

“The moment there is such an invitation from the Libyan people and administration,” Erdogan said that “gives us the right.”

On November 27, Ankara signed a defense agreement with the Govrnment of National Accord (GNA). The formal goal of the deal is to strengthen forces controlled by the GNA’s Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj as the Libyan capital is under siege from the Libyan National Army (LNA) led by Khalifa Haftar.

The LNA describes the advance on Tripoli as an anti-terrorism operation because the GNA cooperates with al-Qaeda-linked groups. Haftar promised that the LNA would enter Tripoli by the end of 2019. Erdogan says that the possible deployment of Turkish soldiers in Libya would not amount to violating the United Nations’ Libya embargo.

“The activity of sending soldiers in response to such a call from Libya’s national government can never be interpreted” as a violation of the UN embargo, Erdogan noted. “Turkey would decide on what kind of initiative it will take if it receives such an invitation.”

Turkey is one of the key backers of the GNA in its fight with the Libyan National Army. The problem is that the GNA controls only a small chunk of the country in the north and has a very bad PR because of its affilation with various radical groups, which are the core of the pro-GNA force. This reminds the situation in Syria where Turkey also backs militant groups known for cooperating with radicals and even al-Qaeda in order to pursue its own geostrategic goals.

A pro-Turkish map of the situation.

Just recently, Turkey and the GNA signed a memorandum on maritime boundaries in the Mediterranean Sea. It remains unclear how the GNA that controls only several towns can present Libya on the international stage. Nonetheless, Ankara was very satisfied with results.

On December 9, Erdogan said that Turkey and the GNA can carry out joint exploration operations in the eastern Mediterranean after the two sides signed a deal on maritime boundaries. Erdogan claimed the accord would also allow Turkey to carry out drilling on Libya’s continental shelf with Tripoli’s approval. The area where Turkey and Libya have drawn their maritime borders in the accord is close to the large Greek island of Crete.

Header: Haftar is merely using the spectre of working with Russians to pressure westerners into backing him instead. Russian strategy toward Libya may indeed seem puzzling to observers, with constant zigzagging between conflicting parties, which in the words of Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is Russia’s approach “to not bet on any one party.” In reality, however, the Russian strategy at present is mostly reactionary and only aims to keep Russia relevant in the Libyan context.

Moscow sees Haftar’s LNA as a legitimate actor. A source in Moscow familiar with Russian policymaking on Libya told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity that the Kremlin sees power institutions of Cyrenaica as more legitimate than the internationally imposed GNA and that Hifter’s mandate given by the elected House of Representatives “originates from within Libya itself.” 

Haftar has continuously used Russia as a boogeyman to win the hearts and minds of politicians in Europe and the United States. Sources in Moscow claim that virtually all reports on the deployment of the likes of the Wagner PMC as well as Russian tanks and S-300 air defense systems to eastern Libya that appeared in Western media were intentionally fed to them by Haftar’s political advisers, all for the sake of scaring Western officials into supporting the LNA commander.

According to the Russian source, the general has struck multiple informal agreements with his main international backers, including the UAE, France and the United States, on specific economic and political dividends they could receive from the country under his rule. Yet no such agreements were ever offered to the Russian side, specifically in the energy industry that Moscow sees as a prospective area of cooperation. Hafter is after a bigger fish: If he ever manages to establish control over the National Oil Corporation, at which he once failed, Moscow will hardly be his go-to energy partner.