What do you do with a used mercenary, someone whose professional training is in fighting, whose most recent job has been killing?
In Syria, both Turkey and Russia have hired a lot of mercenaries to kill as proxies for what the countries’ respective presidents, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Vladimir Putin, think are their national interests. In Syria, they claim to be allies, but the fragility of the alliance and the difficulty in harmonizing Turkish and Russian ambitions is perfectly expressed in Libya.
There, both Erdogan and Putin are in harmony on one aspect of the “used mercenary” question. They agree the answer is, once their killing skills are no longer needed somewhere, send them somewhere else. And for both Erdogan and Putin, that place is Libya.
But this is where harmony falls apart. The Russians are sending fighters to aid the Libyan National Army (LNA) rebellion led by Gen. Khalifa Haftar, while the Turks are sending guns and men in support of the Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA) which Gen. Haftar’s Russian-backed forces are trying to overthrow.
The on again, off again Russo-Turkish alliance swerves like this. On January 12, the two countries declared a joint ceasefire meant to cover both GNA and LNA forces in Libya. On January 19 both leaders reaffirmed their commitment to a peaceful resolution in Libya at a UN-sponsored conference in Berlin. But within a week, both Turkey and Russia were openly sending more guns and gunmen to fuel the conflict.
No wonder Ghassan Salame, the U.N.’s special peacemaker in Libya denounced “unscrupulous actors [who] cynically nod and wink toward efforts to promote peace and piously affirm their support for the U.N.” even as they “double down on a military solution.”
Typically, significantly, Salame did not name any of the unscrupulous states involved, even as he warned their meddling is “raising the frightening specter of a full-scale conflict and further misery for the Libyan people” and the whole North African region.
It’s not just Turkey and Russia, by the way, among the other international meddlers in Libya are France, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Jordan on the LNA side, while Turkey and Qatar are helping the GNA, which was created by, and ostensibly supported by, the United Nations and the United States.
Mustafa Fetouri is a Libyan academic and freelance journalist. He is a recipient of the EU’s Freedom of the Press prize and write regularly for the Middle East Monitor.