Russia and Turkey have developed close ties in recent years despite supporting opposing sides of the Syrian and Libyan Civil Wars. However, Turkey’s support for the Syrian opposition controlling Idlib province and increased military involvement in Libya continues to heighten the tensions between both nations. The accompanying articles from Turkish sources argue that developments in Libya might escalate tensions between Turkey and Russia despite ongoing talks.

The first article states that the developments in Idlib and the war in Libya put Russia and Turkey at odds and created friction between them for various reasons. First, Russia is not pleased with Turkey deploying jihadist armed groups from Idlib to Libya to support the GNA and increasing its military presence in Idlib. Using jihadists as proxies worries Russia because it is concerned that one day they can similarly be used against Russia as well. Second, Turkish support for the GNA shifted the balance of power in Libya and challenges Russia’s calculation of possibly using Libya as a gateway to Africa. The GNA gaining control of the western regions and preparing to move on to oil-rich Sirte and strategic Al-Jufra airbase with Turkey’s support agitates Russia. Russia is also concerned that Turkey will try to prolong the war and establish military bases similar to those Russia established in Syria in these regions and will then remain there permanently. Third, the perception that Turkey acts on behalf of some of its Western allies and Russian mercenaries being under direct threat of Turkey-backed forces bothers Moscow.

The author argues that Turkey’s intervention in Libya in some respects may benefit Russia. First of all, it presents an opportunity to Russian President Vladimir Putin to put pressure on the GNA and its ally through its relations with Erdogan. In this scenario, while Russia will get concessions from the Haftar side, it will also get concessions from the GNA. As long as Putin maintains its relations with Erdogan, this scenario will yield results for Moscow. Second, the author contends that since NATO members do not have a unified and long-term strategy in Libya, Russia has been trying to find ways to exploit this and weaken NATO through its relations with Turkey. Third, Turkey’s involvement in Libya and lack of relations with other regional actors involved in the Libyan conflict have led other actors to see Russia as an interlocutor as evidenced by the official visitors from several countries to the Kremlin. Fourth, the article posits that Turkey signing a maritime delimitation accord with the GNA has further escalated tensions with other actors involved in natural gas explorations in the Eastern Mediterranean. Tension between Turkey and other regional actors is likely to benefit Russia.

The second article is a Joint Statement on the Turkish-Russian High-Level Consultations on Libya. According to the statement, Turkey and Russia are reaffirming their commitments to de-escalate the conflict in Libya and continue their bilateral engagements to find a lasting political solution by encouraging all parties to work toward a truce. They also promise to improve the humanitarian situation and fight against terrorism.

President Erdogan’s desire to prolong the war in Libya to take control of oil-intensive regions such as the Sirte-
Jufra line and to establish military bases is a situation that Moscow is very allergic to…

Source: “Türkiye-Rusya ilişkilerinde yeni ‘mayınlı alan’: Libya (A new mine field in Turkish-Russian relations: Libya)”, 06 August 2020.

In Turkish-Russian relations it is impossible to separate the Syrian [conflict] from the war in Libya. There are a few reasons for that. The first is [Turkey] sending thousands of jihadists from Idlib to Libya to support Serraj and Ankara’s increasing military presence in Idlib is unacceptable for the Kremlin…

Despite the decrease in the concentration of jihadists, increasing Turkish military presence in Idlib, creates “deterrence” for the operations of the Russian-backed Assad forces which makes it difficult for Moscow to find a final resolution for Idlib…
Second, President Erdogan’s desire to prolong the war in Libya to take control of oil-intensive regions such as the Sirte-Jufra line and to establish military bases is a situation that Moscow is very allergic to… At the beginning of July, the objective of an attack on Turkish Armed Forces controlled al-Watiya Air Base by “unidentified aircraft” was to give a message to Turkey that it will be costly to be stationed there.

It is certain that Turkey will be one of the most affected countries from the partition of Libya [because of] only engaging with [GNA], its economic interests in the region, its interests in the Aegean and Mediterrenean… The fact that Moscow prioritizes the unity of Libya does not mean that it will not benefit from its division.

…Ankara’s intervention in Libya, within certain limits, provides some advantages to Moscow. First of all, Turkey’s intervention in Libya gives Russia an opportunity to negotiate with Western countries through Erdogan whom it can easily manipulate…

Secondly, since different NATO members have taken different approaches to the parties in Libya, Russia also seizes the opportunity to play NATO members against each other in Libya, again through Erdogan.

Third, …the actors in the region see Russia as a mediator which increases Russian influence. Russian Foreign Ministry accepting officials from opposite sides of Libya’s [conflict] almost everyday from Turkey, Egypt, Greece, UAE, Qatar, and Algeria is a clear example of [seeing Russia as a mediator].

Fourth, while Turkey’s engagement in Libya and signing a maritime delimitation agreement with [GNA] is causing tensions among [regional] actors over controversial energy sources in the Eastern Mediterranean, it will likely benefit Russia…

Source: “Libya Konusunda Türk-Rus Yüksek Düzeyli İstişareler Üzerine Ortak Açıklama (Joint Statement on the Turkish-Russian High-Level Consultations on Libya)”, 22 July 2020.

The Republic of Turkey and the Russian Federation whose leaders launched an initiative in Istanbul on 8 January 2020 to de-escalate the situation on the ground and to pave the way for a political process in Libya,

Expressing the conviction that there is no military solution to the Libyan conflict and it can only be solved through a Libyan-led and Libyan owned, UN-facilitated political process; Agreed on the following:

  1. Continue joint efforts, including encouraging the Libyan parties, with a view to creating conditions for a lasting and sustainable ceasefire.
  2. Facilitate the advancement of the intra-Libyan political dialogue in line with the conclusions of the Berlin Conference on Libya (19 January 2020) and in coordination with the UN.
  3. Call upon the parties to take measures in order to ensure safe humanitarian access and delivery of urgent assistance to all those in need.
  4. Consider creating a Joint Working Group on Libya and convene the next round of consultations in Moscow in the near future.

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