Russian-Turkish face-offs in Libya

“It would be suicide for Putin to go on a full-fledged military operation against the Turks,” told Alexey Khlebnikov, Middle East analyst.
Moscow and Ankara remain on opposite sides in the Libyan war since the conflict’s early days.

Turkey has boosted its military support for the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) in recent months, which as a result has gained ground against the Libyan National Army (LNA). The LNA is led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, who is backed by Russia.

While Turkey’s intervention has begun to turn the tide, Russia is trying to double down on by supplying its Mig-29 fighter jets. Moscow says it did not send the jets and has maintained an air of deniability regarding its involvement in Libya, mainly by dispatching mercenaries of the private firm the Wagner Group.

As in Syria, Russia and Turkey have largely avoided direct confrontation in Libya, yet they remain at cross purposes, particularly as Ankara aims to get rid of Haftar and seems dead-set on defending its maritime borders. Last week Turkey announced plans to begin exploratory drilling off the coast of Libya.

Also last week, Turkish state broadcaster TRT launched a Russian language news site saying it was designed to fight disinformation and manipulation through the press. Observers saw it as part of an ongoing informational war in order to fulfill Russian ambitions in Libya and other areas of mutual interest.

Russian state-run news agency Sputnik has repeatedly published stories that have angered the Turkish government, such as one in February arguing that Turkey’s Hatay province had been stolen from Syria.

So, what is next? Ryan Bohl, Middle East and North Africa analyst at consulting firm Stratfor, expects Turkish forces to aggressively pursue the supremacy, as Turkey’s deep economic troubles combined with the pandemic had made its government more risk-averse.

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