A Continuation of the Libyan Political Dialogue

Valery Kulikov
UNSMILThe United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) has called on participants in the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF) to hold an in-person meeting in Switzerland from June 28 to July 1 to “develop proposals on how to hold the national elections in Libya, especially in regard to the constitutional platform for the upcoming voting”. Right before this meeting, the UN intends to organize (from approximately June 24-26) a meeting in Tunisia for the LPDF advisory committee to develop “recommendations and the practical mechanisms to make decisions at the forum”.

Along with this, on June 23 Berlin is convening a second conference on Libya, whose purpose is to prepare for the country’s nationwide elections and to review the reconciliation process that was initiated in October last year. This time, the event will be held at the ministerial level, where Russia will be represented by Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Vershinin, and the United States by Secretary of State Anthony Blinken. At the Berlin conference, Libya will be introduced as a full-fledged participant in the negotiations, which is stipulated in a separate clause.

The previous Berlin conference was held in January 2020 with the participation of various heads of state, including the presidents of Turkey and Russia, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Vladimir Putin. The international community recognizes that the ceasefire, the lifting of the oil blockade, and having parliament create and ratify an interim executive branch represent progress made since the first Berlin conference. It turned out to be the most effective out of all the conferences held on Libya, since it managed to bring the stances taken by external mediators closer together, and at that time it was Moscow and Ankara that played a key role in the Libyan settlement, helping reach an agreement on the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA, led by Fayez al-Sarraj) and the Libyan National Army (LNA, under the command of Khalifa Haftar). Back then, Moscow insisted on inviting both of these key figures to Berlin. The results of the first Berlin conference, with assistance actively provided by Moscow, Ankara, and Cairo, made it possible to stop the advance of GNA troops toward the east, and sign a ceasefire agreement in October – and then, in February 2021, the Libyan Forum of Political Dialogue was successfully held in Geneva under the auspices of the UN. It is worth reiterating that the Geneva forum back then elected members of the Libyan Presidential Council, headed by Mohamed Yunus al-Menfi, as well as the new prime minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh, who was a little-known businessman and aspiring politician.

Over the period that has elapsed, the Government of National Unity (GNU) and the new council have taken measures to prepare the country for its parliamentary and presidential elections, and unite the political and financial institutions in the eastern and western parts of Libya, which have remained fragmented for six years. At present, the main issues involved in the Libyan political dialogue are still the call for the immediate withdrawal of foreign mercenaries from Libya, which number, according to UN estimates, about 20 thousand people, and petitioning the Libyan authorities to do everything possible to hold the national elections on December 24.

The ceasefire agreement signed in October required the withdrawal of all foreign military forces by January 23, but the situation has not changed significantly since that time. For example, in Libya there are Turkish military personnel and Syrian mercenaries brought there by Ankara under an agreement with the GNA, as well as mercenaries from Chad, Sudan, and Syria who were fighting on the side of the LNA.

Ankara, citing official agreements with the previous authorities in Tripoli, is not planning on leaving at all, although it is demanding the departure of mercenaries that support the LNA.

Over the past few days, about 140 Syrians have returned to their homeland, but this did not occur as part of the withdrawal of foreign military forces from Libya, but rather took the form of another “shift rotation”: in place of the departing militants Ankara sent another 200 people of the pro-Turkish Amashat, Sultan Murad Division, and the Hamza Division, reported sources for the Syrian Observatory on Human Rights (SOHR). At the same time, it became known via the SOHR that the Hamza Division had arrested several mercenaries that had returned with the last group to Syria on charges of committing serious crimes in Libya.

As far as the other foreign service personnel in Libya go, as a matter of principle they do not acknowledge their illegal presence in Libya, but insist that Turkish troops withdraw.

Despite the international community’s demands, attempts by the head of the Libyan Foreign Ministry, Najla Mangoush, to negotiate with Ankara about withdrawing its fighters from Libyan territory, and various intra-Libya agreements, the process of withdrawing radicals from the country for good has been suspended. Some observers attribute this to the recent change in the stance taken by the White House. Last month, US Ambassador to Libya Richard Norland spoke out against immediately winding down the presence of foreign forces. According to him, these actions must be taken gradually. The statement made by the US Ambassador to Libya has been perceived equivocally: on the one hand, the United States supports the Libyan people and their new government in their desire to rid the state of armed foreigners, and on the other, Norland called Turkey an important partner in the political process, and mentioned that it would be beneficial for Ankara to consolidate its efforts there with Washington’s. Therefore, it is impossible to rule out that the White House is sticking to a fence-straddling policy, one pursuant to which all foreign powers should be removed from Libya except for Turkey. For one-and-a-half years, Ankara has been transferring military equipment, ammunition, and soldiers to Libyan territory, both violating the UN Security Council’s arms embargo and trying to hide behind an illegitimate agreement signed with the former leader of the GNA, Fayez al-Sarraj, although this document has no legal force and is still not recognized by the international community.

Meanwhile, various gangs continue the war vying for influence in the western part of Libya. In the city of Al Ajaylat, located in the west of the country, clashes continue using heavy weaponry between groups associated with the Muslim Brotherhood (a terrorist organization banned in the Russian Federation). Almost every day there are reports of injuries and deaths as a result of shootings, with civilians around the city becoming victims. A struggle between once-allied gangs has unfolded owing to disagreements while trying to establish control over certain areas. The Libyan National Army (LNA) has repeatedly spoken about the danger posed by armed groups supported by the Muslim Brotherhood in the western part of the country in particular, and for the region as a whole. Organizational leadership is in favor of disbanding and disarming them.

Under these conditions, Russia’s Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN, Anna Evstigneyeva, during an “Arria formula” video conference among Security Council members expressed Russia’s fears about the future of Africa after mercenaries withdraw from Libya, since they could penetrate the “porous borders” into countries of the Sahel. Evstigneyeva proclaimed that Moscow continues to persistently call for a peaceful settlement of the Libyan issue that is founded on a far-reaching, inclusive dialogue between all the stakeholders involved.