Turkey wants to open up Libya

The Berlin Conference last week brought together many countries involved in the Libyan crisis one way or another to seek a path to peace. The participating countries were the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, Germany, Turkey, Italy, Egypt, Algeria and Congo.

The tension was slightly defused, but nobody expected a miracle from the meeting, though a period of relative calm may now dawn. 

The joint communiqué, presented after the meeting by the German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres, was drafted as an omnibus text that was loaded with everything pertaining to the Libyan crisis.

A complex issue like the Libyan crisis cannot be brought to a solution with one or two meetings. It will require strenuous efforts, especially by the major actors.

The conference ended up with optimism. It emphasised the need to abide by the U.N. Security Council resolution prohibiting arms exports to Libya, but a binding mechanism was not incorporated in the joint communiqué. Merkel preferred to leave the ball to other actors, especially African countries. 

A unanimous decision on specific issues is difficult to obtain among the main foreign actors in Libya. EU countries are more divided on Libya issue than on other issues. France and Italy eye the rich oil reserves in the country. Other Mediterranean EU countries are worried about a new massive refugee movement towards their coast. Germany worries because it is the ultimate destination of refugees. This is why Merkel is eager to see the African countries assume more responsibility.

Russia is also assuming a role in Libya through the Russian Wagner mercenaries. It does not do so as a benevolent act. Russia’s move is part of its entrenchment in the southern borders of NATO. It did the same in Syria and continues to be further entrenched there. NATO countries have every reason to be worried about this outcome. However, if more human casualties are to be avoided both in Syria and Libya, Russia’s approach is likely to bring more positive results.

There were two Turkey-related issues in the context of the Berlin conference. One is that oil and gas have increased the appetite of the countries that dominate the energy markets. Now, a country that had hitherto remained distant from such competition joined them: Turkey. Its involvement in the Libyan crisis started at the early stages of the Arab Spring, mainly to protect the interests of the strong Turkish business community operating in the country. Libya was the first county where Turkish contractors began operating in the international market. Turkey’s latest involvement in the Libyan crisis goes beyond the protection of the Turkish business community’s interest. It may have high expectations, but its close cooperation with Russia may play a balancing role.

The second Turkey-related issue is the Turkey–Greece antagonism. At the end of 2019, Turkey and Libya had signed two agreements. One of them was about the delimitation of their maritime jurisdictions, which meet somewhere south of the Greek island of Crete. The other was about military cooperation between the Turkey and Libya.

Greece had a legitimate interest in the first agreement, because it reduced its maritime jurisdiction that it had agreed with some other eastern Mediterranean countries, but the second did not infringe any of Greece’s national interests. Despite this, Greece became one of the strongest opponents of the Turkish-Libyan military cooperation agreement. 

As a result, Greece expected to be one of the important participants in the Berlin conference. Merkel took special care to calm Greek worries, explained that the decisions adopted by the EU regarding the eastern Mediterranean would remain intact and that the debates in Berlin would be confined to the security situation in Libya. But Greece continued to threaten that it would veto, at all stages of the EU-decision making process, all decisions adopted on this subject in its absence.

Irrespective of its reflection on Turkish-Greek relations, the Berlin Conference will be a milestone in the long path towards peace in Libya, but the distance to be covered may be long.


The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.