Turkey sending troops to Libya

January 02, 2020

THERE seems little doubt that Turkey’s parliament, dominated as it is by supporters of president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, will rubber stamp his plan to send troops to fight in Libya alongside the militias of the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) led by Fayez Al-Serraj.

The GNA which controls the area around Tripoli, the capital in the West of the country is currently trying to fight off an assault by the Libyan National Army (LNA) led by Khalifa Hafter, who draws his legitimacy from the House of Representatives (HoR) in Tobruk in the East. This is the parliament that was elected in 2014 and then driven from Tripoli by the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), most of whose candidates had been trounced at the polls.

It remains a mystery that the United Nations and the international community never accepted the legitimacy of this body from the outset. The UN chose instead to embark on overseeing more than a year of horse trading among all Libyan political players which resulted in the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA) which, by seeking to give power to everyone, including the MB losers, largely ignored the democratic will of the Libyan people.

The militias backing the GNA this week began to lose significant areas of Tripoli. Hafter’s forces include around a thousand Russian fighters from the paramilitary Wagner Group which is close to the Kremlin. This means of course there is every chance that Turks will be fighting Russians in Libya.

At first sight, such a confrontation doesn’t make sense given the apparently close relationship Vladimir Putin has built up with the increasingly autocratic Erdogan. However it is almost certain the Russian leader welcomes the newly assertive Erdogan, simply for the regional instability his actions are promoting. He has laid claim in a joint deal with Libya to large parts of the Eastern Mediterranean likely to hold major oil and gas reserves, in defiance of the interests of Egypt, Greece, Cyprus and Israel. The imminent arrival in Libya of Turkish troops, or at least of fighters from Turkish-sponsored Syrian militias, backed up by Turkish naval forces and war planes flying out of Northern Cyprus has raised considerable international tension.

Erdogan continues to exasperate his NATO allies. Even if President Trump has a soft spot for his Turkish opposite number, Congress is far from enamored with Ankara’s increasingly unreasonable behavior.

All this of course serves to take the spotlight off Russia’s support for the brutal Assad regime in Syria and the dubious connections forged between Moscow and Tehran. Putin is now one of the world’s longest serving leaders and has learned a great deal about exercising power. One lesson is that of the conjuror, who diverts his audience’s attention with one hand while the other is unobtrusively actually organizing the trick.

Thus Putin welcomes all and any chaos that the vainglorious Erdogan can create. He may also be smiling at the way Erdogan imagines he is now playing big power politics, even though it is clear that heavily-indebted Turkey simply cannot afford this posturing, even with huge influxes of cash from Qatar. And as and when the Turkish leader is humiliated, Putin will shed only crocodile tears while he then quickly seeks to profit from the collapse of Turkish aspirations.

January 02, 2020
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