In a breakthrough on Saturday, both sides in the civil war – the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA), based in Tripoli, and the Libyan National Army (LNA) forces led from the east of Libya by Gen Khalifa Haftar – agreed to a ceasefire proposed last week by Russia and Turkey.
Both Russia and Turkey have small forces in the country, with Russia backing Haftar through the use of mercenaries and Turkey supporting the GNA with military advisers. The Turkish ministry of defence insisted the ceasefire was holding, adding that the situation in Libya was “calm except for one or two isolated incidents”.
At stake is not only Libya’s vast oil wealth, the future of African migration into Europe, but also the geopolitical orientation of north Africa.
Turkey claims it is trying to prevent Libya from turning into an authoritarian, anti-Islamist state. Opponents of the Turkish intervention claim Erdoğan is in fact trying to secure Mediterranean gas supplies and turn Libya into a client Ottoman state. With both sides in Libya largely composed of decentralised militia, the difficulties in policing a ceasefire are multiplied.
Within that context, Italy is not sure what to do when it comes to Libya. Under the second Conte government – since early September – it has almost fully aligned with France, a strong supporter of Haftar. But the Europeans betting heavily on Haftar and refusing to curb the Emiratis’ illegal intervention in Libya has only led to an assertive Turkey, which last month officially announced an overt military intervention.
“Erdoğan’s Libya decision is viewed as a catastrophe by the Europeans.”
Italy is trying to recover lost ground by proposing a trilateral commission with Turkey and Russia to secure peace in Libya, an idea Conte will pursue in talks with Erdoğan on Monday.
The former Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi criticised the performance of the Italian government in Libya, saying it was not surprising that Russia and Turkey were taking advantage. He said: “Italy must reaffirm its role in the Mediterranean and in Libya in particular. We must say forcefully that we will not allow Erdoğan and the Turks to replace us as interlocutors in Libya.”
The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, visited Moscow on Saturday partly to discuss Libya.
The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, has insisted any Russian forces in Libya are freelancing, saying: “If there are Russians there, they do not represent the interests of the Russian state and do not receive money from it.”
Germany is due to hold a Libyan peace conference in Berlin, at which as many as 11 states who are intervening in the country will be required to pledge they will cease to do so.