Additional challenges emanate from foreign powers. A Turkish-Russian under­standing would marginalise Haftar’s other foreign backers – the UAE, Egypt and France – and empower Turkey, whose regional policies are opposed by all three states. The ceasefire initiative Egypt presented on 6 June is an attempt to regain relevance and forestall a Turkish-Russian deal. The U.S. is alarmed over Russia’s de­ployment of fighter jets and could bolster Turkey’s military posture in order to pre­vent Russia from establishing permanent bases in Libya.

All four powers will try to prevent or undermine a Russian-Turkish arrangement on Libya. This could exacer­bate conflicts if different foreign powers back competing local actors. Rivalries between great and middle powers in Libya will also prevent the UN from regaining its role as a credible mediator between con­flicting foreign and local interests.

A marginalised Europe

Europeans stood by and watched as Libya’s war raged on and foreign intervention reached unprecedented levels. The primary reasons for their inaction were France’s policy of protecting Haftar, the initial tacit backing of the U.S. for Haftar and its sub­sequent indifference to the war, and Euro­peans’ reluctance to confront the UAE and Egypt over their support for Haftar’s offen­sive. This unwillingness to apply leverage also marked German diplomacy.

The result of this policy was that Turkey and Russia filled the vacuum, while Euro­peans lost credibility and influence. This will now limit their ability to mediate and to prod the GNA into taking urgently needed steps, such as strengthening its base and accountability, and containing newly empowered armed groups.

Now that the catastrophic consequences of European inaction are evident and Haftar no longer has a chance to seize power, a policy shift is both possible and indispen­sable. A Russian-Turkish condominium would neither re-unify Libya nor serve the EU’s interest, even were it sustainable. But opposing Russia and Turkey at the same time will not work, since this would push both states closer together.

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Two key goals should guide European policies: first, safeguard Libya’s unity; second, counter Russian influence in Libya as a matter of priority. The U.S. shares both goals. But Europeans will only be able to act in unison if the French position shifts away from its relative tolerance for Russia and adversarial stance towards Turkey.

Russia’s military presence in Libya represents a far greater menace to Europe than Turkish interven­tion. Reduc­ing the Russian presence would also dimin­ish the GNA’s dependence on Turkish pro­tection, thereby addressing the concerns of member states that oppose the GNA due to their dispute with Turkey over maritime rights in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Among the tools Europeans have at their disposal to pursue these goals, hard power does not feature prominently. EU member states no longer have the credibility needed to play a meaningful military role in Libya and would only add to the confusion of for­eign meddlers in the country. The EU mari­time operation IRINI does little to prevent arms shipments from reaching Libya. It can, however, be used as a deterrent against illegal oil exports – which is crucial for preventing partition.

Western leverage is strongest in the econo­my and in the use of sanctions. Western states should continue to use their influ­ence in international financial institutions as well as the global banking, insurance and energy industries to prevent illegal oil exports and to work towards reforms at the Central Bank, and ultimately its reunification.
Paralysis in the UN Security Council raises the need for a more extensive use of EU and U.S. sanctions against companies and individuals involved in violations of the arms embargo and attempts at illegal oil exports. The prosecution of war crimes under uni­versal jurisdiction is essential as a deterrent for armed groups empowered by foreign sponsors.
To curb Russian influence, the EU should wield sanctions to undermine Haftar, on whom Russia depends as a host and part­ner. In parallel, Western states should finally push their interests in a stable Libya more strongly when engaging with Haftar’s other foreign supporters, particularly Egypt and the UAE, to dissuade them from further cooperation with Russia.
Wolfram Lacher
This text is an updated version of the SWP commentary "The Great Carve-Up".
Dr. Wolfram Lacher is a senior associate in the Middle East and Africa Division at SWP and author of "Libya's Fragmentation: Structure and Process in Violent Conflict" (published by Bloomsbury)
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