What does Haftar have to do with Russian ministers postponing their visit to Turkey?

MEHMET ACET,  Tuesday 11:57, 16 June 2020

It was announced by official authorities the previous day that Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu would be coming to Turkey with a delegation comprised of military and security officials, and that they will hold consultations on regional issues.

The same announcement also included that the decision concerning Lavrov and Shoygu’s visit to Turkey was made during the telephone call held between President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.

However, a surprise development took place, and the Foreign Ministry stated that the visit had been postponed.


So, why did this happen? Why was the Russian ministers’ visit to Turkey postponed despite its announcement?

Upon the surprise development, we quickly turned to our sources to find out what happened behind the scenes.

A top-level official in Ankara, who is aware of the reason underlying the cancellation, provided two important details that will shed light on the issue.

1- Russia’s ceasefire suggestions proved unacceptable for Turkey.

2- The Russians came knocking with an offer backing warlord Khalifa Haftar, which was no different to the Cairo declaration on June 6.

When I asked the said official, “So, the offers came before the Russians themselves?” we obtained a new piece of information.

It seems that on Saturday, in other words, one day prior to the foreseen visit by the two ministers, a deputy minister from Russia came to Turkey and conveyed Moscow’s offer to Ankara.

As the nature of the offer was unsuitable to reach a consensus Libya, in other words, as no progress was expected to be made through any sort of negotiation at this stage, the decision was made to postpone the Russian foreign and defense ministers’ visit to Turkey.

Let us provide a little background information for those who have not closely been following the developments in Libya.

What we refer to as the Cairo declaration is: When the Turkey-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) in Libya defeated Haftar’s forces with an effective military operation, putschist Gen. Haftar immediately ran to Egypt for help.

This was followed on June 6 by a call to ceasefire – that was supported by Russia as well – with a joint press release, which is called the Cairo declaration.

As we have discerned from past experience, the ceasefire call has no purpose other than to save Haftar from the bottleneck he is stuck in and buy him time. This was the situation for both the UN-recognized Fayez al-Sarraj administration in Libya and for Turkey.

Hence, this proposal by Egypt’s Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi and Haftar was clearly rejected by the Sarraj administration as it gave Haftar a taste of defeat.

Similarly, Ankara followed suit.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu had clearly stated that this call to ceasefire was insincere and “stillborn.”

Thus, Russia declaring that it will sit at the negotiation table with an offer that both backs Haftar and remains within the boundaries foreseen by the call made by Cairo was deemed a clear sign that negotiations would hit a dead-end. With this being the case, it was ascertained that the Russian defense and foreign ministers’ trip would not go beyond a touristic visit.


So what does this new situation indicate?

How will Turkey and Russia’s failure to reach an agreement on Libya affect the situation on the battlefield?

The Turkey-backed Tripoli administration had announced that it would launch military operations in Sirte and advance toward the east. Reports also indicate that for days now a military buildup is intensifying around this city, which is also the birthplace of ousted leader Muammar Gaddafi.

Sirte’s capture means that the Libya’s oil crescent area, which holds 70 percent of Libya’s oil reserves, is next. This is the real reason Russians are insisting on the operation stopping at the current point.

Russians had deployed numerous war craft to this area from the Khmeimim Base in Syria upon the GNA forces’ victory over Haftar’s units, eliminating first the threat surrounding Tripoli, and then immediately turning toward the east.

Since no progress can be made at the diplomacy table at this stage, we are going to need to turn our eyes towards the Libyan battlefield.

Is the Turkey-backed GNA going to be able to continue its advance through Sirte toward the east?

Will the Russians, who have been supporting the putschist Haftar forces through the Wagner group to date and trying to present a relatively apprehensive appearance, change their tune and enter the conflict zone with an explicit attitude?

These are the million-dollar questions.

A process that we must follow very closely in Libya awaits us in the upcoming days.

#Khalifa Haftar
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