What's Russia's stance in Libya?

Published 21.12.2019 00:07
Updated 23.12.2019 19:54

Dear Mr Öcal,

As President Putin most probably was unable to take a look at your Daily Sabah article from Dec. 16, in my humble capacity as someone whose credentials have been certified by the president of Russia, I deem it necessary to convey to you some thoughts.

I regret to inform you that a number of your claims and judgments were hard to accept, as they simply do not correspond with reality.

To begin, I cannot agree with your hypothesis that: "For years, Russia has acted as an observer, glaring at what financial capitalism has wrought upon Libya." Leaving to one side, as to what (or to whom) you refer when you say "financial capitalism" – the truth is, that in fact "for years" Russia, along with every other international actor, has respected the objective fact that Libya has been ruled by a legitimate government, recognized as such by the whole world including the United Nations, since 1969.

The former head of the Libyan state was welcomed as a guest of honor at various capitals, especially while concluding the Lockerbie case, after which time many international companies began competing for lucrative contracts with the Libyan government in the fields of oil and gas, construction and transport. And nobody ever objected to such course of events – neither distinguished scholars and political scientists from the beneficiary countries, nor "impartial observers retired to Odessa." By the way Odessa is the territory of the sovereign state of Ukraine, so I fail to understand what link between this suggestion and the current crisis in Libya.

The situation subsequently took a dramatic turn for the worse, when a number of states – believing themselves to be grandmasters of the world's destinies – decided to oust the Libyan leader, despite his having done much good for the people of his country. The fate visited upon Moammar Gadhafi was surely terrible – not due to "Mother Russia" of course, but thanks to other states. Who these others are, we recall very well, although, believe me, not all of them are worth being remembered.

Since then has been nothing but conflict in this oil-rich country. The nation has been torn apart by feuding factions and sectarian strife, causing a steady flow of refugees. Several hundred armed groups rule various regions, terrorizing the local population. One of these factions is indeed the Government of National Accord (GNA). But let me remind you that this its "internationally recognized" status is largely contested. Some presume, for example, that the Skhirat Agreement of 2015 is no longer in effect and no longer binding. Claiming that the majority of the country supports the GNA would, similarly, constitute wishful thinking, some would say. It is not that I share such a view, but analyzing the situation as a whole, I definitely have to this into account.

Who is better – Mr. Haftar or Mr. Sarraj? That's up to Libyans to decide. However, as Mr. Haftar controls a significant part of the country, his words means something and have been echoed in at least several capitals across the region and the world. On the other hand, the numerous extremist groups in the outskirts of Tripoli are declaring their support for Mr. Sarraj does not raise the credibility of the latter, especially taking into account the fact that some of them have arrived from having fought for Daesh in Syria. They have neither credibility nor legitimacy.

Of course, I cannot help admiring the political flexibility of those who assert that the GNA is acting "as Muslims" just because it supported the resolution in the U.N. Fourth Committee to extend the UNRWA mandate and took the right stance when the U.S. recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. It has been undoubtedly remarked that the GNA are acting in such a way, but it is my impression that the great majority of Libyan people support the Palestinian cause, too. And they are not alone – U.N. decisions on Palestine have always been supported by the bulk of the international community, including a great number of states with Christian, Muslim and other religious traditions. And by the way, Mr. Öcal, do you really think that detaining foreign nationals for months and years without any serious legal procedure is the way "real Muslims" behave? And those now siding with Mr. Sarraj – their heads covered by black scarfs with inscriptions in Arabic – are they also "real Muslims?"

There were some other intriguing questions which arose upon reading your op-ed, Mr. Öcal.

For starters, of whom do you precisely speak when you refer to "usurpers?" The article hints that these may be found in either Greece, Cyprus or Egypt. It seems to me somehow, that most in Athens, Nicosia and Cairo (and in many other capitals) would be reluctant to take on such a label.

You look to have come to a very interesting conclusion on the fact of Mr. Haftar's general support from the U.S., the EU, Israel, Egypt, Greece, the UAE and Saudi Arabia, as well as Russia. Is it really so? If it is, how has it happened that most international actors have chosen to back the wrong man and only Mr. Sarraj is good, clean and legitimate? What makes him so good? Just because some have staked support for him, while others have not?

As for my final question, Mr. Öcal. If Mr. Haftar is supported by such an impressive crowd, why on earth do you appeal – and in such a sarcastic manner – not to Donald Trump or Emmanuel Macron, not to Mohammed Bin Salman or Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, but to Vladimir Putin? Can we assume that an active presence of others in Libya satisfies you, but not a Russian one? How so? Please accept the insurances of my highest consideration.

P.S. Sorry that I cannot refer to you as a "comrade," as you are not a member of a Communist Party. Neither am I. Nor is Mr. Putin. But let us all refrain from mocking each other using words, terms and symbols that not so long ago used to be sacred to some – so sacred that they were willing to lay down their lives for them. We remember them, and believe me they deserve it.

* Ambassador of the Russian Federation to the Republic of Turkey

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