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Libya: The Clinic Is in Berlin, but the Doctor Is Russian

Libya: The Clinic Is in Berlin, but the Doctor Is Russian

Monday, 20 January, 2020 - 11:45
Ghassan Charbel
Ghassan Charbel is the editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper

A country like Libya cannot be ignored, in view of its oil wealth and geographical location, especially at a time of “death boats” and big migration waves.

Libya could have been left to its fate had its danger been limited to its map. But what is clear is that the armed fragmentation in the African country threatens to turn it into a permanent danger to its neighbors, and possibly to farther countries.

We do not exaggerate when saying that Libya is a country with bad luck. As soon as it got rid of the sick tyrant who suppressed it for four decades, it fell into the hands of militias.

Experience has shown that the presence of militias is the golden gate to endless wars that attract interventions and hegemony.

Some early hegemonies have hampered a project that was put forward in 2012, calling for collecting the militias’ arms. Sponsors of armed groups declined the plan, using as pretext expressions like, “rebels don’t lay down their weapons.”

Some countries distanced themselves from the thorny Libyan file, such as the United States, which retreated from the scene following the killing of its ambassador there in 2012, focusing instead on only necessary raids against ISIS in that country.

The disintegration of the Libyan State is not only an internal file. It also concerns surrounding countries, namely Egypt, Algeria, Sudan, Tunisia, Chad, and Niger. The concern is compounded with the absence of border control, which allows for the free movement of terrorists and gangs.

We can add that Libya has a coastline of 1850 km on the Mediterranean, which worries nearby Europe, especially its Italian side.

The past few years have shown that, in addition to Turkey, the Libyan coast is the second gateway through which African migrants cross into Europe.

Thus, Libyan stability becomes a national, regional, and international need, especially after information about roving fighters who see in the Libyan arena an alternative to the Syrian square, where they are faced with the Russian intervention.

In this context, the recent Berlin conference on Libya is uniquely important, especially after the Libyan scene seemed to be nearly slipping into a situation similar to what it was in Syria, i.e. drowning in violent internal rifts amid foreign military and political interference that further aggravated it.

There is no doubt that the recent Turkish interference in Libya sounded the alarm in more than one European capital.

Just weeks ago, politicians and experts were confident that the situation in Libya was an evidence of the declining European role, and the inability of the major countries in the Old Continent to reach a unified vision of the means to deal with this file, which concerns them at the political, economic, and security levels.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan went too far in his intervention in Libya. He forged a security understanding with the Tripoli-based government of Fayez al-Sarraj, and an agreement to define maritime borders, based on which he will be competing for the Mediterranean’s oil and gas resources.

Erdogan was not satisfied with exhuming the “Ottoman” history of Libya and neighboring countries and pledging to defend the “descendants of the Ottoman conquerors”, but rather made direct threats to Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, who moved his forces to reclaim Tripoli from the hands of armed militias, with the moral support of the UAE and Egypt and a shy French sympathy.

Since military intervention has become a method of communication in this part of the world, Erdogan has sent to Libya officers, advisers, and trainers, as well as pro-Turkish Syrian forces.

There is another man who did not forget Libya. It’s Vladimir Putin, who was assuming the post of prime minister when Russia allowed the adoption of a Security Council resolution that was used by NATO to launch a military operation that practically overthrew Muammar al-Gaddafi.

During that operation, the Soviet and Russian weapons were insulted, similarly to what happened in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. NATO moved its pawns to a country that was a friend to Moscow. It is not Putin’s habit to forget.

Putin presented himself as the peace sponsor in Libya, taking advantage of the retreat of the US, which was preoccupied with the escalating crisis with Iran, from diverging views between France, Italy, and Germany, and from Turkish interference, which gave him the ability to influence the position of the Sarraj government.

This is how Moscow invited Sarraj and Haftar to sign the ceasefire. Haftar’s departure without signing did not prevent him from describing Putin as a “dear friend” and expressing his readiness to continue the path with him.

Because Russia’s current approach to resolving crises is based on launching a process in stages, and according to political, military, security, economic, and humanitarian tracks, Putin tried to transfer his Syrian expertise to the Libyan stadium.

In the meantime, Dr. Ghassan Salame, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General and the Head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya, was trying to “restore an international position on the Libyan issue,” as he recently told Asharq Al-Awsat.

It is clear that Salame is betting that the presence of the intervening parties under one roof in Berlin may help to restore an international umbrella to control the interventions, in parallel with an intra-Libyan dialogue over the economic, political and military tracks.

This is how Salame brought Libya into the "intensive care" room in Berlin, hoping to gather a European and international will to save it from militias, interventions, and woes.

It is Putin’s style that moved the Syrian crisis from the Geneva Declaration and transitional governing body to the Vienna meetings, changing the references and launching a political process. The methods circulated in the Berlin conference carried many of these trends.

It is clear that the Russian doctor has the ability to speak to all those concerned with the Libyan patient, who was rushed to the clinic in Berlin.

This doctor is willing to implicate others without forgetting the United Nations. The question is, will the Libyans wake up before it is too late?

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