Further questions over the sustainability of a Turkish-Russian arrangement in Libya concern their interest in a Libyan political settlement, and the opposition such an arrangement would provoke from other foreign powers.
As the ongoing struggle over Sirte shows, a Russian-Turkish understanding does not necessarily mean an end to fighting, nor would it be immune to periodic breakdown and renegotiation. But once the status of Sirte and Jufra is settled, mutual deterrence by Russia and Turkey may well put an end to large-scale hostilities. Even in that scenario, however, the prospects for political negotiations are slim.
Since Haftar launched his Tripoli offensive, most political actors in western Libya no longer see him as a credible negotiating partner. Those who agree to negotiate with him will come under fierce pressure from groups who champion a harder line. Moreover, the war has caused a deep rift between western and eastern Libya, where few voices had spoken out against the war. The more the futility of Haftar’s offensive has become evident, the more secessionist sentiment has gained ground in the east.
Turkish and Russian intervention also poses obstacles to a political settlement. In negotiations, Libyan parties would demand that their adversaries’ backers withdraw foreign elements, including Russian and Syrian mercenaries, Emirati drones, Russian fighter jets and Turkish military assets.
Moreover, an agreement that would re-establish a single government, army command and a central bank would also dilute Russian and Turkish influence. A unified government might ultimately seek to eject any foreign military presence. Russian and Turkish interests therefore lie in freezing the conflict, rather than resolving it.
Haftar’s failure in Tripoli does nothing to alleviate the growing financial pressure on both sides. Since January 2020, Haftar has stopped oil exports in areas under his control. He is thereby preventing revenues from accruing to the Central Bank in Tripoli, which has refused to offer the eastern authorities associated with Haftar greater access to finance.
A resumption of exports from southern oilfields under GNA control would not solve the Tripoli government’s financial troubles, particularly given low oil prices. To date, Western states have used UN sanctions on illegal oil exports to block Haftar’s recurrent attempts at selling oil independently. Any agreement between the two sides to resume oil exports would have to involve a reform of the Central Bank’s executive that reflects an arrangement on revenue distribution.
In the absence of such a deal, fiscal conditions will worsen for both the Tripoli government and the eastern authorities associated with Haftar. This would also limit their ability to pay for foreign mercenaries and military hardware, as well as to reward their foreign sponsors with opportunities in the energy sector. Russia and Turkey face a dilemma: Negotiating a political settlement would risk curbing their influence, but merely freezing the conflict will undermine the economic viability of their interventions.
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