An attempt by Russia and Turkey to broker a ceasefire between the warring sides in Libya has foundered after Khalifa Haftar, the military strongman fighting to seize control of the country, refused to sign the agreement in Moscow.
Russia’s foreign minister confirmed that the ceasefire talks had failed after Gen Haftar left Moscow on Tuesday, hours after Fayez al-Sarraj, prime minister of the UN-backed Government of National Accord in Tripoli, signed the agreement.
“We will continue our efforts on this track, because no definitive result has been achieved so far,” Sergei Lavrov, Russian foreign minister, told reporters during a visit to Sri Lanka on Tuesday. He added that Moscow had sought to “encourage all Libyan parties to agree, and not continue to sort things out by force”.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish president and a co-sponsor of the ceasefire initiative, appeared to issue a warning to Gen Haftar, threatening retribution for his actions. “In the days ahead, we will closely follow the choices made by the putschist Haftar and . . . if the attacks on the country’s legitimate government and our Libyan brothers and sisters continue, we will not hesitate to teach the putschist Haftar the lesson that he deserves,” said Mr Erdogan.
Gen Haftar is backed by Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Russian mercenaries. He controls vast swaths of Libya’s east and south, including its oilfields, and his forces have been trying to seize the capital, Tripoli, since April 2019.
On Tuesday Mr Erdogan called on Moscow to do more to resolve the conflict. “We did our duty,” he said, adding that “the next part is up to” Russian president Vladimir Putin.
“We never go back on our word. In this case, too, we will stand behind our promise until the very end.”
The Turkish parliament voted earlier this month to send troops to Libya and Ankara supports and arms the UN-backed government in Tripoli.
The decision by Gen Haftar to walk away from the ceasefire agreement is a blow to Moscow and Ankara’s attempts to present themselves as arbiters in the Libyan conflict. It also calls into question the survival of a shaky ceasefire observed by the Libyan factions since Sunday and undermines prospects of a breakthrough at a Berlin peace conference due to be held this weekend. .
The Russian authorities had summoned Mr Sarraj and Gen Haftar to Moscow on Monday and presided over several hours of indirect talks between them in order to formalise the ceasefire.
A Moscow-based diplomat said Gen Haftar had been uneasy about language in the draft ceasefire agreement that could be interpreted to require him to pull back troops from positions he controls in the suburbs of Tripoli. This refers to a provision in the deal about agreeing “a line of battle contact” between the two warring sides in order to ensure “a sustainable ceasefire”.
The diplomat said Gen Haftar was also understood to be unhappy with plans for Russia and Turkey to be involved in monitoring the ceasefire. “Haftar’s problem was Turkey’s role,” said the diplomat. He added that the draft was “tilted towards the GNA” even if Gen Haftar was still going to be in the stronger position entering negotiations.
Claudia Gazzini, senior analyst at the International Crisis Group, said Gen Haftar would have been reluctant to pull out of any positions he occupied or to be treated on the same footing as his opponents in a committee set up to observe the ceasefire. “The language was too ambiguous for Haftar as it puts into question his control of some of the positions he now holds,” she said.
Ms Gazzini added that Gen Haftar would not have wanted to send representatives to a joint military commission set up by the agreement to sit alongside GNA representatives. “It would mean that Haftar accepts to negotiate with a counterparty he considers to be militias,” she pointed out.
Wolfram Lacher, Libya analyst at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, said: “There are now very limited prospects for a negotiation in Berlin.”
“Yesterday a lot of things seemed possible. Haftar’s rejection of the agreement may have to do with the fact that it was mediated by Russia and Turkey and his backers, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, were not happy with this.”