Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan attend a meeting on January 8, 2020 in Istanbul. Erdoğan is hosting Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to inaugurate a new gas pipeline, with tensions in Libya and Syria also on the agenda. (Alexey Druzhinin/ Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images)

Calls for Libya Peace Talks as Regional Powers Jostle for Influence

Germany’s Merkel and Russia’s Putin press for a meeting in Berlin as warring sides in Libya accuse each other of ceasefire violations

Each side of Libya’s conflict has accused the other of violating a ceasefire that was supposed to begin on Sunday, as world leaders have pushed for peace talks to begin in Berlin.

The internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) said there was gunfire soon after the ceasefire was set to start, while the opposing Libyan National Army said the GNA was violating the agreement with several different types of weapons.

The Reuters news agency also reported exchanges of fire early Sunday morning after the ceasefire deadline.

Turkey sent troops this week to Libya to support the Government of National Accord, which is in control of the capital Tripoli.

It is facing an insurgency to take over Tripoli by the Libyan National Army led by Gen. Khalifa Haftar, who is allied with Russia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan.

Both German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin said peace talks on Libya should take place during a meeting with the two leaders on Saturday.

No date was given but Merkel said invitations would be sent out soon.

Haftar initially seemed to reject calls for a Sunday ceasefire, stating that he would continue fighting, but a spokesperson announced forces loyal to him would accept the ceasefire minutes before it was set to start.

Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan called for a ceasefire on Wednesday during a meeting in Istanbul to launch a Russian-Turkish pipeline.

Kerim Has, a Moscow-based political analyst focusing on Russia and Turkey, said Russia was keen to maintain good relations with Turkey despite taking opposing sides in Libya.

“I don’t think [the ceasefire] will be effective in the long term; it will remain short-term, but they had to save face,” Has told The Media Line.

He said that Moscow wanted to continue working with NATO member state Turkey to sell it more weapons and divide it from the United States.

Turkey’s purchase of Russia’s S-400 missile defense system has garnered strong criticism from the United States, which may impose sanctions over the deal.

Moscow wants to “keep Turkey on its side … because Turkey gives Russia a tool to impose Russia’s own terms with the West,” Has said.

Has was skeptical whether the proposed Libya peace talks will bring significant positive results but believed many more meetings will be called in the future.

“There are so many actors and they are supporting opposing parties,” Has told The Media Line.

“There are so many divergent interests in Libya and I’m not sure the conference will be successful.”

Can Selçuki, a pollster and general manager of Istanbul Economy, a public opinion company, said Erdoğan will have a tough time if he wants to ramp up military involvement in the country.

“In general, the Turkish public doesn’t want to get involved in conflicts in the region,” said Selçuki.

“The government has more convincing to do.”

According to Selçuki’s survey, 58% did not support sending troops to Libya while 78% preferred Turkey taking a mediator role in the region rather than getting involved in more conflicts.

Ankara signed a maritime deal with the internationally recognized government in November, arguing that the two now had exclusive rights in waters going from parts of the Turkish to the Libyan coastline.

The area is on the edge of the Greek island Crete and Athens has sent a complaint to the UN.

The agreement has also increased concerns from Turkey’s regional rivals, including Israel and Egypt, which seek to send gas through the area to Europe.

Selçuki, a former economist with the World Bank in Ankara, said that while Turkey has rights in the Eastern Mediterranean to drill, Ankara isolated itself too much.

“I think that was a mistake and Turkey would have been in a much more comfortable position if it were talking with Egypt and Israel.”

Turkey is already in a dispute with Greece and the rest of the European Union over drilling off of Cyprus, an island in the eastern Mediterranean split between Greek and Turkish Cypriots.

US oil giant Exxon Mobile is carrying out gas exploration off the disputed island in agreement with Greek Cypriots who say Turkey’s drilling is infringing on their territorial rights.

Turkey has little domestic energy resources and greatly depends on gas imports from Iran and Russia, which often have diverging strategic interests in the region.

Selçuki said there could be more than economic benefits in getting involved in Libya, but there are no guarantees.

“If Turkey can actually help stabilization in Libya … and help negotiate a new deal between the fighting sides, if those can be achieved then involvement can be beneficial; otherwise it might be too costly for Turkey.”

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