The European Union is seeking Russia’s help to broker a deal with Libya’s strongman General Haftar, who commands the Tobruk-based Libyan National Army (LNA). The aim of the deal is to bring rival Libyan factions under the civilian command of the UN-backed government, established in December 2015. Italy will lead the talks with Russia with the aim to prevent General Haftar from creating a secular military dictatorship such as the one of Bachar in Syria or of Sisi in Egypt. Brussels fears that the ongoing lawlessness and instability in Libya would give rise to another refugee crisis that would take its toll on Italy. Rome therefore has a stake in bringing Libya’s competing factions to the negotiating table to find a political solution.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini last week spoke by phone with her Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov about Ukraine, Syria and Libya. Both leaders agreed to meet in the coming weeks, possibly on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference. “Both on Libya and Syria, we decided to find ways to join efforts and cooperate,” Mrs. Mogherini commented regarding her call with Mr. Lavrov, adding that working with the Russians to help Libyans unite their country “can only be a positive thing.” This latest diplomatic flurry comes a month after Malta’s foreign minister, George Vella, openly warned that Khalifa Haftar, the Russian-backed Libyan warlord, could start a “civil war” in Libya, increasing refugee flows to the EU.
Libya’s General Haftar is Russia’s ally who has made major advances westwards, defeating other rival factions including the Islamic State. General Haftar’s most significant victories include the September 2016 capture of the eastern oil sector, which accounts for two-thirds of the country’s oil exports. Russia has been vehemently against a NATO intervention in Libya and instead endorsed General Haftar, seeing new opportunities in the power vacuum. General Haftar visited Moscow twice in the past six months in an attempt to secure arms supplies despite a UN arms embargo in place since 2011, which put a ban on the sale of weapons to Libyan factions. The only exception is that of the government in Tripoli, which can import weapons upon the approval of the UN Security Council.