Earlier this year, French officials announced the completion of the first phase of a withdrawal of foreign mercenaries from eastern Libya.
According to diplomats, these guns were for rent from Chad. The news came against the backdrop of UN-backed efforts to lead the beleagured North African country in the late 2021 elections seems useless.
Libya’s Electoral Commission decided for several reasons that such a vote could not take place. The presence of foreign forces on Libyan soil was undoubtedly one of the delicate factors, which contributed to complexity and controversy. until the now postponed election scheduled for December 24th.
Even with some mercenaries from countries in the Sahel leaving Libya, there is no indication that Turkey’s army or Russia’s Wagner Group will leave the country in the foreseeable future. There are two main reasons why.
First, the Turks and Russians have too much to gain by staying in Libya. Second, they have little incentive to leave under current circumstances, because the only force in the world that could possibly use its leverage to pressure Turkish and Russian forces to leave is the United States.
It is unlikely that the US will play its cards in such a way.
“Washington is not interested in Libya, especially at this time when there are many more urgent problems – from Donbas to North Korea, to China and above all to the enormous internal problems facing the Biden administration,” Federica Saini said. Fasanotti said. , a non-resident fellow at the Center for Security, Strategy and Technology in the Foreign Policy Program at the Brookings Institution.
“That’s why until now there has not been the commitment one would expect, and I’m sorry for Brussels, there will not be tomorrow either,” she told Al Jazeera.
Other experts agreed. “Biden does not have a strategy [for Libya], ”Said Jalel Harchaoui, a senior fellow at the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime. “The Biden administration is not serious enough to have a strategy. So, when it comes to the issue of foreign actors’ presence in Libya, it should not be taken seriously, because it does not really do anything. “
Potential Russian expansion
Within this context, there is every reason to expect that armed Turkish and Russian personnel will remain part of Libya’s security architecture, unless and until circumstances differ significantly. From Washington’s perspective, this is not necessarily problematic as long as what the Wagner group’s presence does not expand. Due to such concerns about the Russian power expanding its footprint in Libya, the US considers the Turkish army’s presence in the polarized North African country to be the best outcome Washington can realistically expect.
“Because the United States is aware of its own lack of determination in its efforts to force Russia to leave because they know Russia will stay, you need a mechanism to contain potential expansion of the Russian presence,” Harchaoui said. explain.
“The only mechanism the United States has is the Turkish presence. When the United States looks at Turkey, it sees a NATO member. It is a form of presence that is not bad, it is effectively desirable [from the American perspective] … Meanwhile, [the US] needs some sort of device to prevent Russia from expanding its presence. As a result, [Washington] finally in favor of a continued presence on the part of Turkey.
Perspective from Europe
Member States of the European Union, especially Mediterranean countries, have major interests in Libya’s future. The presence of both Turkish and Russian forces in the North African country is deeply disturbing to European powers, unlike Washington which has taken a much more favorable stance towards Ankara’s role in Libya.
France is particularly at odds with the American perspective on Turkish and Russian forces in Libya. Paris sees the Turkish role there as more problematic as the Wagner group’s presence.
“The presence of Turkish forces there is of course considered detrimental to France’s interests, given the strategic alignment of Paris with Abu Dhabi and its support of the Oriental forces of General Khalifa Haftar in the 2019-2020 Tripoli offensive, ”said Umberto Profazio, a fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies and Maghreb analyst at the NATO Defense College Foundation.
Yet France is not the only European country to have significant objections to the Turkish army’s role in Libya.
“Remorse for Turkey’s presence in Libya has also increased in Italy, especially in the far-right political movements that see Libya as Italy’s backyard, also through a neo-colonial perspective,” according to Profazio.
“Economic competition must also be taken into account in these considerations, which helps explain why Paris is struggling after many years of worrying intra-European [which backed Haftar] in Rome [which backed the Government of National Accord] decided to come together, put aside their differences and face outsiders who are expanding their influence in the Libyan arena. ”
Fasanotti agreed that such economic competition is a critical variable in this comparison. “[Turkey and Wagner Group’s] presence [in Libya] conflicts with European interests for several reasons… Sign each order [in Libya] with Russia or Turkey is one less economic agreement for the European partners. “
In addition to issues arising from economic competition, there are security issues that give EU members reason to view the Turkish and Russian hardships in Libya as a threat to national interests of European powers. “Finally, whoever controls the Libyan coast controls migration flows and this is a strategic issue that Brussels should not underestimate,” Fasanotti said.
Tensions in and over Ukraine’s crisis are contributing to such concerns. If this Eastern European country’s crisis gets out of control, NATO officials will have to consider how Russian forces in Libya can ban flights over the North African country. Although it would not necessarily directly threaten any EU member’s national security, it would be an unacceptable scenario for Western governments because such a situation would violate a NATO doctrine.
“For Russia, the presence of the Wagner group in Libya should rather be seen in a broader perspective that takes into account Moscow’s growing military foothold in North Africa and the Sahel,” said Umberto.
“Given the confirmed presence of Wagner assets also in Mali, Libya could very well serve as a bridgehead in North Africa from where Russia could disrupt European powers by using hybrid means such as private military companies and contractors in the soft underbelly that represented by the Sahel. Europe’s attention from other fronts. “
In the end, Turkey and Russia have proven to be the most important external monarchs in Libya. But their presence provoked great division among Western states.
If the US remains reluctant to throw its weight around in Libya and maintains its own perspectives on Turkish-Russian rivalry for influence that results in Washington being more accommodating to Ankara’s Libya’s foreign policy than several of the US’s close European allies, can deepen this division.
Finding strategies for combating geopolitical risks and potential security challenges arising from the actions of Turkish and Russian forces in Libya will not be an easy task for EU officials. Yet Brussels must grapple with new realities in North Africa at a time when this volatile part of the Arab world is off the White House’s radar.