Column: Russia also settling into Libya

Taha KılınçBy: Taha Kılınç*

U.S. Ambassador to Tripoli Christopher Stevens being killed at the CIA headquarters in Benghazi, Libya, on the evening of Sept. 11, 2012, was one of the most extraordinary developments witnessed by the Middle East in recent years. It was extraordinary, because one of the sharpest turns in U.S. foreign policy was experienced with the effect of this development.

There is currently no certain evidence; however, all the signs indicate that the attack on Stevens pushed the U.S. to stand against all the Islamic movements in the Middle East, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood. The U.S. administration that tried to direct the Arab Spring in accordance with their own interests until then and partially achieved it, too, decided after the killing of its ambassador in Libya, that maintaining the old status quo in the region would be “wiser.” The, “If we further liberate the region, there might be an explosion that could lead to who knows what” thought became domineering.

The events that took place in Benghazi on the night of Sept. 11, 2012, was the starting point of all incidents such as supporting Egypt in 2013, developing a tacit stance siding with Bashar Assad in Syria, rapport with Iran, attempting certain operations in Turkey.

While doing this, the U.S. not only confused the traditional allies in the region, it also lost complete control in certain regions. One of these was Libya, which led to the most difficult time in then-U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s political career.

It was hoped that the ousting of Moammar Ghadhafi, who ran the country from 1969 to 2011, through outside intervention and then his killing by lynching in his birthplace Sirte – most likely through a plot by foreign intelligence organizations – would bring hope to Libya. Currently, at the point of the period of collapse, which even anti-Ghadhafi circles refrain from calling “revolution,” Libya is physically shared by three separate administrations: In the capital, Tripoli, there is a government officially supported by the United Nations. The city of Misrata and the area around it is controlled by militia forces. And Gen. Khalifa Haftar has authority in the east of the country. The parliament in Tobruk is also loyal to Haftar. Besides these, there are also local regions where small armed groups are sovereign.

Libya, which was run in the pre-Gadhafi period in the form of three main provinces – Tripoli, Fezzan and Barca (Cyrenaica) – is returning to its old partitioned structure again. However, this time, outside intervention and direction has great impact on the division.

The strongest among the local administration groups in Libya where national unity cannot be ensured despite all the efforts of the U.N. and international community, is Gen. Haftar. The 73-year-old Haftar has the support of Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. While these two countries are militarily and economically strengthening Haftar, they are also trying to reinforce his international position.

Last week, Gen. Haftar received new support. Russia, which previously stated through Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov that Haftar should have the control in Libya, gave the world a message by hosting the general on its aircraft carrier that dropped anchor at Tobruk harbor. This message was of course essentially aimed at the U.S. administration as well as the entire West, and meant, “I am also in Libya now.”

Russia, which lost at least $4 billion in Libya with the ouster of Ghadhafi, hopes to make up for its financial loss and securely settle in Libya by offering open support to Gen. Haftar. It is reported that agreement has been reached between the two parties on matters such as providing arms to Haftar’s forces, vetoing the weapons embargo decision aimed at Libya in the U.N., the quick start of economic aid. That Haftar has promised Russia at least two military bases in Libya is one of the news pieces that was already reflected in the press.

It seems that Russia using its influence to side with Haftar in the balances in Libya is going to make it difficult for the Tripoli administration supported by the U.N. Whether the country will be dragged into a civil war depends on Haftar’s attitude and approach toward other groups. What might happen in the case the general chooses to go to war is proven by the Syria example.

“Imperialism” referring generally to the U.S. and Western countries is a very widespread habit. However, since this leads to a perception of other countries, such as Russia and China, having no imperial aims, it is an extremely incorrect use. The steps taken by Russia, which is continuously increasing its activity in the Islamic geography from Syria to Libya, from Central Asian republics to Crimea, are of course related to its own imperialist aims. Similarly, reaching into Africa, China is also acting to establish and protect its own circle of interest.

Although Donald Trump, who will take oath in two days to officially take office as the 45th president of the U.S., is known to send warm messages to Russia, he is going to face Russian military boots in every region the U.S. has influence. We will see together whether the displays of friendship before presidency will continue when his country’s interests are in question.

*Taha Kilinç is a Turkish columnist. He writes for Yeni Şafak Turkish daily newspaper.

(Published in Yeni Şafak on Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2017)