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article imageOp-Ed: Russia expresses support for Libyan Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar

By Ken Hanly     Dec 28, 2016 in Politics
In spite of pledging support to the UN-brokered Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA), Russia and other countries such as Egypt and the UAE are supporting the rival House of Representatives (HOR) and Khalifa Haftar commander of its armed forces.
Haftar has been to Russia as recently as the end of November and he has had good coverage in the Russian press. There was even a fake news item in Sputnik in which a suggestion by Ali Gotrani a member of the Presidential Council (PC) of the GNA of making Haftar the temporary ruler of Libya was presented as if it were an actuality. Most members of the PC and of the GNA would reject Haftar having such a role. Many want him to have no role at all in a unified government.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov was critical of UN envoy to Libya, Martin Kobler whom he accused of favoring other political forces rather than Haftar and the HoR. Gatilov said that Libyans had to find a compromise on Haftar's participation in a new leadership. What Gatilov is doing is going against the UN resolution that recognizes the GNA as the sole legitimate Libyan government and also warns about having dealings with "parallel institutions" such as the government of the HoR. At the same time the sanctioned head of the HoR, Ageela Saleh, talks with a number of foreign officials in an attempt to solve the political crises and find a role for Haftar.
For some time now, Martin Kobler, has also insisted that Haftar have a significant role in any unified government and according to the Libyan Express even in the armed forces: The Head of the UNSMIL, Martin Kobler, said Friday that the most important issue in Libya now is to solve the current crisis by forming a unity strong army with Khalifa Haftar having a very essential role in it. Russia appears to be aligning itself more closely with the Egyptian president el-Sisi and Haftar in Libya. Given that the Trump administration appears to want a more positive relationship with Russia, the U.S. may come to also throw more support behind Haftar and the HoR strengthening Haftar even more.
Although Haftar probably worked for the CIA for some time and lived for a decade near their headquarters in the U.S., he also had military training in the USSR in the seventies. Gatilov praised Haftar for his role in fighting terrorists including the Islamic State (IS) even though he did nothing to help drive the IS from Sirte and regards many of the militia who carried out the offensive as his enemies. He is also besieging Derna, which is run by an Islamist group who were instrumental in ousting the IS from the city. Gatilov also praised Haftar for helping increase oil production. Of course he did so by wresting the eastern oil ports away from Ibrahim Jadhran, who had supported the GNA and struck a deal with them. So far, Russia appears to have kept to the UN embargo on shipping arms to Libya. It has also retained contacts with members of the GNA government. Kobler has called on Russia to help the GNA by using its influence on eastern forces.
There is no sign that Haftar is really that interested in all the frantic attempts to find some strategy by which he can be enticed to join the GNA. Western support for the GNA continues but appears hollow as on the ground Haftar continues to strengthen his position, attacking his opponents and threatening to move on Tripoli. So far there is no sign of any viable plan that would see Haftar join the GNA.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about Khalifa Haftar, Russia Libya relations, Gennady Gatilov
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