Can Astana-type peace process work for Libya?
The situations in Syria and Libya are the bitter consequences of the Arab uprisings.
Historically, both of these once-powerful Arab countries have been of great interest to foreign powers. Now, as they face similar fates — torn to pieces by civil war, foreign intervention and proxy wars — their similarities and differences are laid bare.
One similarity is the prominent roles of Turkey and Russia in the war-torn nations. Although there are important differences between the Syrian and Libyan conflicts, what Moscow and Ankara are pursuing in the latter is an experiment that was tested in the former.
In Syria, Turkey and Russia support different sides and so established a political platform — the Astana peace process — to represent these rival groups. Turkey’s role at the table is to guarantee the participation of the Syrian opposition, while Russia guarantees the participation of the regime.
This model of cooperation has been a win-win situation for the two nations: Turkey was able to prevent Kurdish-led forces from having any say in a future political settlement for Syria, while Russia was able to help the regime regain some of the legitimacy it had lost.
In Libya, however, things are even more complicated, during the current phase at least. As in Syria, Russia and Turkey have thrown their support behind opposing parties, as have other countries. So far, Ankara and Moscow have avoided making any bold statements criticizing each other’s role in the troubled country, but whether they will be able to come to an agreement similar to the one they reached in Syria remains to be seen.
Turkey and Russia have emerged as key players in Libya. They both have stakes in what happens to the country, including political, economic and military interests that form part of their long-term regional agendas.
Turkey seeks to maintain the status quo and has thrown its support behind the Government of National Accord, for a number of reasons. First and foremost, Ankara does not want to lose another Arab ally in the region.
Secondly, a friendly Libyan government would serve Turkish interests in Mediterranean.
Thirdly, like many countries, Turkey’s main interests are primarily related to its economy. If it can secure for itself a say in the future of Libya, this would offer the chance of lucrative gas and oil contracts. Ankara’s success in gaining the authorization of the Turkish parliament to deploy troops in Libya reflects the seriousness with which Turkish policymakers view the situation there.
The shifting dynamics on the ground in Libya are likely to leave no option for Ankara and Moscow other than an attempt to seek a political settlement.
As for Russia, which has emerged as a leading power in the region since 2015 as a result of the American retreat, Libya is another arena in which it can expand its regional influence. Moscow does not want to leave Libya, or Syria, to fall under the influence of the US and Western powers.
More than a dozen Russian fighter jets landed in eastern Libya recently, according to US Africa Command. The deployment of the Russian jets has been interpreted by some observers as preparation by Moscow for strengthening its hand ahead of talks.
The shifting dynamics on the ground in Libya are likely to leave no option for Ankara and Moscow other than an attempt to seek a political settlement, despite their huge differences of opinion. It would be neither the first attempt by Russia and Turkey to broker a cease-fire in Libya, nor the first time the two countries have agreed to disagree.
Given their interests in carving out spheres of influence in the oil-rich North African nation, an Astana-type formula might be an option that Moscow and Ankara bring to the table in the coming months.
However, both countries also need to take into account not only the interests of the opposing parties in the country, but also those of other states, European and Arab, that have stakes in the country. The Libyan theater, therefore, seems likely to be an even tougher test of Turkish-Russian relations.
- Sinem Cengiz is a Turkish political analyst who specializes in Turkey’s relations with the Middle East. Twitter: @SinemCngz