The “immediate withdrawal of foreign mercenaries from Libya” – about which Turkey has “made reservations” – is the central point of the final declaration adopted today at the second Berlin International Conference on Libya, which was also attended by the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. The European allies count on the United States to give solidity to the fragile peace process in the country. Prime Minister Mario Draghi said it clearly in the Senate Chamber: “the actor who would have more cards to play does not want to be involved in that part of the world: this was also the subject of the talks held in Cornwall. What we are trying to do, however, is to urge the action of the European Union as such under the auspices of the United Nations and at that point to see if the United States can support or can in any case be in favor of the action of the United Nations in that part. of the world, again in the awareness that by now that challenge has become too great to be faced by individual countries ”.
There are two main issues: the path to the elections on 24 December and the withdrawal of foreign mercenaries still present on Libyan territory. There are still Chadian and Sudanese mercenaries, but above all pro-Turkish Syrian militiamen (present together with Turkish soldiers and trainers) and Russian mercenaries of the Wagner Group, who support General Haftar. These are the two big elephants in the room that hinder the implementation of the pacification process already decided in the road map. The main unknown is what these foreign forces will do. Theoretically, they should withdraw. The problem, however, is that no one withdraws if there is no coercive power on the other side, it is very difficult for them to go independently and for this coalition government to have sufficient strength to denounce their presence.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, host of the summit, spoke of a UN operation to oversee the withdrawal of mercenaries and foreign troops from Libya. “We will not give up and we will not stop working until all foreign forces leave Libyan territory,” he said.
The unresolved issues, however, remain many. HuffPost talked about it with Arturo Varvelli, director of the European Council on Foreign Relations in Rome. “We need to build an international mission, a hat of legality in which some foreign forces could remain on Libyan soil but within a legitimate and new international framework. I am referring in particular to the role of the Turks, who effectively saved the government of national unity from the attack of General Khalifa Haftar. Now they basically claim the role of winners. In my opinion, the international community should in some way recognize the legal presence, for example, of Turkish observers and trainers within a broader context of an international mission that can carry out security sector reform, i.e. order and the army in Libya, or to monitor the agreements that have been ratified. Of course, Erdoğan on the other side would have to renounce all the irregular presence of fighters, stopping to entrench himself on agreements made by unequal positions between Ankara and the small Libyan government. As for the Russians, they argue that the Wagner Group mercenaries are not troops linked to Moscow, even though we all know that Putin would have the power to order their withdrawal tomorrow morning. This refers to the broader question of Russia’s relations with the West. There were some important openings with the US last week in the Biden-Putin meeting. The Kremlin must somehow take into account the new American administration and how the climate has changed The Libyan situation – comments Varvelli – is not resolved in Tripoli or Benghazi, but is resolved once again in foreign capitals. Today in Berlin, but it is not conclusive. It can be resolved in Ankara, Moscow and Washington in the near future ”.
Recognizing a Turkish role is a bit embarrassing, especially for Europeans, but in fact Turkey is the country that has supported and is supporting the government of Tripoli. “There is a double attention to relations with Turkey”, continues the analyst. “We are using the carrot and stick with Ankara. Draghi’s statements two months ago did not have great consequences, Erdoğan remains a difficult friend. Like we need Turkey, Turkey needs us: their economy is in a bad way, they have overexposed themselves in different parts of the Middle East and the Mediterranean. While it is difficult to negotiate with Putin, with Erdoğan it is certainly easier ”.
Blinken in Berlin declared that the US shares “the goal of a sovereign, stable, unified and safe Libya, free from foreign interference: it is what the people of Libya deserve, and it is also fundamental for regional security”. “For this to happen, elections must take place in December, and this means that an urgent agreement is needed on constitutional and legal issues that can ensure these elections”; “The agreement on the ceasefire of 23 October must be fully implemented, including the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Libya”.
According to Varvelli, “Blinken’s participation in the Berlin Conference is very positive: it testifies that, even if the United States will not become the policeman of the world, they are ready to invest more than in recent years. The Trump administration has allowed some friends in the Middle East – the Gulf countries, Israel, Egypt – to do good and bad weather. These actors understood that the climate has changed; this also allowed for the formation of the new government of national unity. Egyptians and Turks have returned to talk to each other, Qatar and Emiratis are back together within the Gulf Cooperation Council, unilateral pressures have subsided. We are experiencing a sort of strategic pause in which now the ball has returned to the great international players ”.
On the field, General Haftar continues to count. Less and less from a political point of view, but still a lot from a military point of view. This national unity government is new but very weak; inside there are men close to him. “It could only really be weakened by the withdrawal of the Wagner Group and the Emirati’s renunciation of having a role through illicit financing channels”, observes the director of ECFR Rome. “If these two resources were blocked, then Haftar would lose its military advantages and become much more marginal.”
As for Italy, of course it “has its cards to play”, as premier Draghi stressed today. “Libya has a huge need for Italy”, concludes Varvelli. We are the largest oil buyer and major technology suppliers. Eni is perceived as an Italian-Libyan actor, there are lasting relationships. For Italy, the problem is having a political actor who is credible, legitimate and capable of truly exercising power. Any discourse on migration control and the rights of asylum seekers cannot ignore the democratization of Libya: they are two closely linked tracks ”.