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Cyril Widdershoven

Cyril Widdershoven

Dr. Cyril Widdershoven is a long-time observer of the global energy market. Presently, he holds several advisory positions with international think tanks in the Middle…

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Why Libya’s Surge In Oil Exports Won’t Last

The Libyan ceasefire agreement, which is being painted as a permanent one, could soon face increased opposition if third party interference is not dealt with. The UN-brokered (UNSMIL) agreement has been hailed by the 5+5 Joint Military Commission members and the Tripoli-based government as a major step forward. At the same time, Libyan general Haftar, leader of the Libyan National Army in the eastern part of the country, has been strangely quiet on the deal. His backers, mainly Russia, the UAE and Egypt, have been generally supportive of the agreement but have warned that there is still more to be done. Global oil markets are already preparing for a possible wave of Libyan oil in the coming months, with production being projected to hit 1 million bpd. Libya’s national oil company NOC has now lifted the force majeure on all its production fields and export terminals.  While all of this is positive news for Libya, the country’s reentry into global oil and gas markets will depend upon the ability of the two main warring parties to bring a decade-long civil war to an end. The ultimate goal of the UN-led efforts for peace is a unified governance framework, with political discussions taking place on October 26 and face-to-face meetings in Tunisia from November 9 onwards. Both parties, the LNA and the GNA, are eager to boost oil exports as the extra revenue is badly needed, but that is no guarantee of peace. The recent announcement that the leader of the GNA-led Tripoli-government, Al Sarraj, will step down by the end of October does little to ensure onlooker about the party’s stability. At the same time, Libyan general Haftar is far from secure as the leader of the LNA. There are growing indications that the disastrous LNA military operations in the west, resulting in a military stalemate, have undermined his position severely. 

The certainty of Libya’s oil future depends upon the stability of the government. While there are some promising signs at the moment, the ongoing interference from third parties such as Turkey, Iran, Russia and the UAE could threaten that stability. Without the consent and support of these external parties, it is unlikely that a long-term ceasefire will be realized.

Related: Oil Prices Rise As Another Storm Rocks U.S. Gulf Coast

Just after the ceasefire agreement, Erdogan made a veiled threat of continued fighting. Ankara seems to be unhappy with one specific article in the agreement that includes the expulsion of all mercenaries from the country, a move that is designed to end Russian and Turkish influence in Libya. The Turkish president has claimed that the agreement lacks credibility. While leaving a mosque in Istanbul after Friday prayers, Erdogan said that the deal had been made by two delegates, one representing Khalifa Haftar, Commander-in-Chief of the Libyan National Army (LNA), and the other a military commander from Misrata representing the Government of National Accord (GNA) headed by Fayez Al Sarraj. As the deal wasn’t made by the highest figures in each party, Erdogan stated that “we do not know the validity of (the decision) to withdraw mercenaries from there within three months.” Turkey’s apparent willingness to remain on the battlefield is a clear sign that the current ceasefire is far from a certainty. Some Libyan sources were quoted as saying that fighting should resume after Defence Minister Salah al-Din Al Nimroush pushed military reinforcements to a number of cities in the western region. Several military maneuvers by the GNA have also been reported around Sirte in recent weeks. Turkey appears to be supporting the hardliners within the GNA, as represented by Minister of Interior Fathi Bashagha, who is affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood. Bashagha is yet to openly support the Geneva ceasefire.

At the same time, President Erdogan added to uncertainty by indicating that Turkey’s military deals with Libya’s GNA will not be altered. Libyan Defense Minister Salaheddin Al Namroush confirmed that statement, saying that “the signing of the initial agreement does not include the military cooperation agreement with the state of Turkey, an ally of the legitimate government.” He reiterated that Turkish training is needed to counter possible LNA military operations. UNSMIL head Stephanie Turco Williams said, however, that an article of the agreement states that military training activities that are being held under military agreements would be halted and training teams would leave the country until a new unity government takes over. At the same time, a video published by the GNA’s “Volcano of Rage” operation’s room showed Libyan forces carrying out military exercises in Turkey. The blatant disregard for that article by Turkey suggests the agreement is already on shaky ground.

The stance taken by Turkey towards the current ceasefire agreement will not be taken lightly by the parties that support the LNA, most notably the UAE, Russia, and Egypt. Renewed military action is likely to be seen as the UN agreement has failed to successfully remove third parties. Libya’s oil future is not only dependent on UN-EU brokered agreements, but it remains largely dependent on Turkey’s actions in the region. Ankara’s confrontation with Cairo, Abu Dhabi and even Moscow, is bad news for Libya. Crises in the East Mediterranean and the Caucasus are directly linked to the current Libyan conflict. Unless Erdogan changes his current aggressive policy in the region, a full-scale re-emergence of Libyan oil is unlikely. The current reopening of Libya’s hydrocarbon treasures will likely be short-lived and could well destabilizing markets once again. 

By Cyril Widdershoven for Oilprice.com

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