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Russian intervention in Libya should worry the US

  • Ali Cinar
  • 9 Jul 2020

As the Libyan conflict drags on the US could find itself fending off an expansionist Russia seeking a foothold in the country.

Troops loyal to Libya's internationally recognised government prepare themselves before heading to Sirte, in Tripoli, Libya, July 6, 2020. ( Reuters Archive )

Five months before the presidential elections are held in the United States on November 3, the battle between President Donald Trump and Vice President Joe Biden has now become the focus of the media. The country is already preoccupied with dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic.

In response to these problems, the US has suspended many of its diplomatic and military activities across the world until the election of a new president. It would be wrong to expect the US to make result-oriented foreign policy moves.

However, this does not mean that Washington will remain completely passive. The US is currently involved in protecting oil reserves it does not own, through a small number of soldiers, in Syria and continues its cooperation with the terrorist YPG/PKK. 

The recent meeting between Libya’s Prime Minister Fayez Al Sarraj of the Government of National Accord, the US Ambassador, and the Commander of AFRICOM may mean a better understanding of the crisis that could result in closer US diplomatic relations with the GNA to stop further Russian meddling in Libya. 

Admiral Foggo, the Commander of the US Naval Forces Europe-Africa, stated that Russia has turned the Mediterranean into “a militarised hot spot” and claimed, “the Russians are deploying quiet, modern diesel submarines capable of launching Kalibr cruise missiles.” 

By stating, “kilo-class submarine can go anywhere in European waters and strike any European or North African capital from under the waves,” Foggo clearly expressed the concern that the US has started to feel the heat from the Russian presence in the Mediterranean.

Turkey sent a high-level official committee to Libya to strengthen political and economic relations between two countries. Turkey sent a message in the most efficient way that it will not let Libya fall prey to other bad-faith actors. 

Furthermore, the Turkish Ministry of Defense, Hulusi Akar, went to Libya and carried out an on-site inspection of military operations. These visits were closely watched by the United States and Russia as well as other countries. The confusion of the UAE and France, which are playing a dirty game in Libya, has become clearer.

Russia's support of warlord Khalif Haftar and his militias against the legitimate UN-backed GNA in Libya is continuing to exacerbate the diplomatic crisis and the war in the same way it did in Syria.

Russia is trying to reinforce Haftar’s soldiers in Libya by recruiting new Syrian fighters. Russia sent 300 fighters, most of whom were Syrian and from the Shabiha militants affiliated with the regime in the province of Deir Ezzor on the border of Iraq, and from the Fatimiyyun, Zeynebiyyun, and Jerusalem brigades, which are foreign groups supported by Iran and sent to Libya for $1,000–1,500 per month. 

Russia’s importing of terrorists from Syria will irk both Turkey and the US. 

Turkey’s recent moves in the Eastern Mediterranean have been vindicated as evidenced by the panic other countries have demonstrated trying to secure their foothold in the country. The best course of action for NATO, and particularly the US, is to confront France over its destructive role in Libya and give a genuine commitment to standing with Turkey.

It's quite surprising that non-NATO Russia and NATO-member France have ended up on the same side against Turkey, a NATO member. However, when Turkey had conducted some business with Russia in the past, NATO members stormed off and demanded strict sanctions against Turkey.

Resuming its relationship in Libya in accordance with international law and its national interest, Turkey will maintain its policy on Libya. Supporting Haftar, who has no legal standing and is an undemocratic force, will hurt Russia's image and continue to weaken it in the international arena.

We can also expect that the Libya issue will become a major talking point in the dialogue to be held between Washington and Ankara after the US presidential elections on November 3.

The US should not let Russia gain a foothold in Libya or in the Eastern Mediterranean in the near future. It is not in their interest, nor in that of its allies.

Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of TRT World.

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