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Vanand Meliksetian

Vanand Meliksetian

Vanand Meliksetian is an energy and utilities consultant who has worked with several major international energy companies. He has an LL.M. from VU Amsterdam University…

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The Real Reason Russia Wants A Ceasefire In Libya

The destabilization of Libya after the ousting of longtime dictator Muammar Khadaffi has created an unstable country where states support a proxy in the continuing civil war. The recent focus of global leaders on reaching a ceasefire was sparked by Turkey’s cunning diplomacy regarding its support for the Tripoli-based UN-recognized Government of National Accord, GNA. The momentum to negotiate wouldn’t have been possible without Ankara’s  and Moscow’s mutual decision to cease fighting. While Turkey supports the ceasefire due to the GNA losing the war, Russia’s reasons stretch beyond Libya’s borders.

The government in Tobruk, the self-declared government of Eastern Libya, has the upper hand in the conflict with the support of Russia, Egypt, France, and the UAE. General Haftar's forces have land, sea, and air superiority over Tripoli's army. Furthermore, the majority of the country is under Tobruk’s control  including the biggest onshore oil production areas in the south. The momentum is with General Haftar. Therefore, one should ask itself why Moscow tried to broker a ceasefire while the GNA in Tripoli is on the brink of collapse?

Turkey’s goals in Libya

Turkey has multiple reasons to prevent the GNA’s collapse. Turkish companies had a profound presence in Libya before the ousting of Muammar Khadaffi in 2014. As a consequence of the conflict, billions of dollars in investments have been put on hold. By supporting the GNA, Ankara intends to get back some of the outstanding multibillion-dollar debt from Tripoli. The timing of Turkey's political and military support, however, has everything to do with energy.

The agreement between Turkey and Tripoli’s GNA on the delimitation of maritime boundaries was a move by Ankara to obstruct cooperation between Greece, Cyprus, Israel, and Egypt concerning the development of natural gas fields. The discovery of significant energy deposits in the Eastern Mediterranean has sparked opportunities for the littoral states. Turkey, however, feels being left out. Related: 5 Niche Energy ETFs You’ve (Probably) Never Heard Of

The agreement with Tripoli should achieve three objectives. First, Ankara intends to obstruct the cooperation between Greece, Cyprus, Egypt, and Israel. Second, Turkey maintains that the Turkish inhabitants of northern Cyprus should also take advantage of the discovery of offshore gas fields. Lastly, the delimitation of the seabed agreement between Ankara and Tripoli should bloc energy exploration in the region by Cyprus and Greece. The EU and Greece have responded equally astonished to the apparent illegality of the deal.

Russia’s hidden motives

General Haftar’s strength comes from the support of its allies Russia, Egypt, France, and the UAE, which has given him military superiority over its adversaries. However, hardly a week after Turkey sent troops to Libya, Moscow agreed on the ceasefire. From a military point of view that doesn’t make sense.

The underlying motivation for Moscow is energy politics and the supply of natural gas to Europe’s southeastern borders. The discovery of natural gas in the Eastern Mediterranean is a possible threat to the Russian domination of the European energy market. The construction of the subsea EastMed pipeline could go at the expense of Russia’s market share.

By agreeing on a ceasefire and a negotiated settlement to the conflict, Moscow prevents the collapse of the internationally recognized government in Tripoli. Thereby the agreement on the determination of the maritime borders of Libya and Turkey is also secured which complicates the construction of alternative energy infrastructure to Europe.

A shaky ceasefire

Russia and Turkey’s effort to negotiate a ceasefire failed in Moscow when General Haftar unexpectedly refused to sign the agreement. Germany and the EU saw this as an opportunity to restore control over the situation after it was caught off guard by the recent developments. Berlin’s asstertiveness, unfortunately, had a low chance of success from the start due to several reasons.

First, the EU is still divided on Libya as France and Italy maintain support for opposing parties. Second, Greece has been sidelined by Berlin as it was not invited to attend the summit. Athens, however, invited General Haftar for talks after the failed peace talks in Moscow where the Greeks claimed to have received support for ‘tearing up’ the maritime agreement between Libya and Turkey.

Also, two days before the summit General Haftar ordered the shutting down of oilfields to put pressure on the GNA. The move shows the leverage Tobruk has over its adversaries in Tripoli who are merely paper tigers. 

Regardless of Haftar’s influence, his power is based on the support of his foreign sponsors. Russia, therefore, needs Egypt’s and the UAE’s support to exert pressure on their proxy in Libya. A lot depends on Tripoli's willingness to compromise. Turkey's support, however, complicates the situation significantly. Therefore, a resumption of fighting in the short term is a likely outcome despite the current ceasefire.

By Vanand Meliksetian for Oilprice.com

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