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Libya: The Clinic is in Berlin but the Doctor is Russian

Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, London, January 20

Libya’s oil wealth and geographical location do not allow us to ignore the turmoil it is currently experiencing. If Libya’s woes were limited to its own territory, we could turn a blind eye. But the truth is that the armed fragmentation of Libya into smaller statelets threatens to turn it into a serious threat to its neighbors in North Africa, and possibly further countries, including in Europe. It is no exaggeration to say that Libya is a country struck by bad luck. As soon as it freed itself from the hands of a cruel tyrant who had ruled it for four decades, it fell into the hands of armed militias. The disintegration of the Libyan state directly threatens surrounding countries, namely Egypt, Algeria, Sudan, Tunisia, Chad and Niger. This concern is exacerbated due to the absence of border controls, allowing for the free movement of terrorists and gangs from one country to another. Libya’s 1,850-km Mediterranean border is a huge worry for Europe (and Italy in particular). Therefore, the convening of the Berlin conference on Libya last week had exceptional importance on the future of the region, especially since Libya is beginning to look more and more like Syria – that is, a country drowning in violent wars accompanied by foreign military and political interventions that further aggravate it. There is no doubt that recent Turkish interference in Libya sounded the alarm in more than one European capital. [Turkish President] Recep Tayyip Erdogan went too far in his decision to sign a security agreement with the Tripoli-based government of Fayez al-Sarraj alongside a treaty to define Libya’s maritime borders in a way that gives Turkey complete control over the country’s oil and gas. But Erdogan is not alone in setting eyes on Libya. Another person is [Russian President] Vladimir Putin, who, taking advantage of the American preoccupation with Iran, has decided to play the role of peace sponsor in Libya and invited Sarraj and [Khalifa] Haftar – the former being the head of the Tripoli-based government, the latter being the [renegade] military commander leading forces against it – to conduct cease-fire talks in Moscow. Now, with the backing of the United Nations, the talks are moving to Berlin. The aim is to put Libya in an “intensive care” ward in Berlin with the hope of forcing a European and international intervention to save it from collapsing. The only problem, however, is that while the clinic is in Berlin, the doctor is Russian. This doctor is willing to implicate those around the operating table, including the UN, in any way possible. The question is, will the people of Libya wake up before it is too late? – Ghassan Charbel (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)