As the conflict has taken a new turn with Russian mercenaries gaining foothold in Libya and siding with warlord Haftar, experts say the US will most likely find an ally in the UN-backed Prime Minister Fayez al Sarraj.

Libyan warlord Khalifa Haftar's violent offensive against the UN-sanctioned government in Tripoli has complicated peace-building in the region since 2015 and the support of regional powers such as UAE, France, and Egypt to the renegade general has left the UN in a tight spot.

Much to the dismay of many foreign policy experts, UN general secretary Antonio Guterres even entertained Haftar by meeting him in April this year, sending a contradictory message to the international community that the international body sat with the same warlord who had been waging war against Libya's UN-recognised government led by Feyaz al Sarraj.  

Though Haftar is trying to gain legitimacy with the help of regional powers, mainly UAE, France, Israel and Egypt, many experts argue that the UN cannot afford to buckle under any pressure and abandon the Sarraj-led government.

"If at all Haftar takes control over Libya, it would be a huge blow for the US in terms of benefiting from the country's regional resources such as gas and oil," Merve Seren, Assistant Professor of International Relations at Turkey's Ankara Yildirim Beyazit University, told TRT World.

"The US won't be willing to lose its impact in the region as France, Germany and Italy are the main players of the Mediterranean resources," she added, describing Israel as the brain behind Haftar, the UAE as his financier and France, a European power that's been deploying diplomatic rhetoric to legitimise the warlord.

As the conflict recently took a new turn with Russian mercenaries entering Libya and siding with Haftar, Seren said the US will most likely find an ally in UN-backed Prime Minister Sarraj.

On December 20, Sarraj called on the US, the UK, Algeria and Turkey to "activate the security cooperation accords" and help him "push back the attack on Tripoli, led by any armed group."

"Following Sarraj’s appeal, the US will get involved more closely as the rapprochement between Russia and Haftar disturbs Washington," Seren continued.

"If this becomes another protracted conflict, it poses another problem for European countries and the UN knows it might face one more large-scale refugee crisis.”

Samuel Ramani, a DPhil candidate in International Relations at the University of Oxford, told TRT World that Russia's resurgence in Libya has certainly been enabled by Haftar's offensive.

"The Russian Ministry of Defence, in particular, has close ties with the LNA (Haftar's militia) though the foreign policy establishment in Moscow prefers a balancing strategy between the GNA and Haftar," Ramani said.

"Going forward, Russia has several winning cards depending on which scenario unfolds: if Haftar takes Tripoli and Russian military support helps that cause, Libya falls firmly into Russia's orbit and Moscow can embark on the Benghazi to Sirte railway project and oil sector deals that it wishes."

And if the GNA holds Tripoli and peace is obtained, Ramani said, Russia "can leverage its relations with both sides" since Russian oil company Rosneft has a deal with GNA, which allows Moscow to access the Libyan oil sector and buy Libyan crude oil for the first time.

For Russia, Libya holds strategic importance since the country has the highest reserves of oil in Africa, most of which have not been explored as yet.

With an existing gas pipeline between Libya and Europe, Russia aims to use the energy export channel for its own gas supplies to Europe and maintain its dominant market share in the region.

Source: TRT World