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The year 2020 ends in Libya in a political confusion heavy with threats for a military truce more fragile than ever. The news broke on December 22, as the chanceries dozed off on end-of-year holidays: Bulgarian diplomat Nickolay Mladenov renounces for “Personal and family reasons” to his tenure as head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (Manul), barely a week after the Security Council formally confirmed his appointment to this post.
The blow is hard for the UN mediation, already deprived of boss since the resignation in March of Ghassan Salamé as a sign of weariness in the face of the escalation of foreign interference undermining any pacification of the Libyan theater. The withdrawal of Mr. Mladenov is above all “Incomprehensible” in view of the consensus that his profile within the Security Council had seemed to arouse in the fall, a quirk probably linked to “Pressure from a Member State”, according to a source familiar with the UN organization.
Telescoping between two axes
The tangible result of this power vacuum at the head of Manul, de facto weakened in its initiatives aimed at perpetuating the ceasefire of 23 October through a political dialogue between the two antagonistic camps in East and West Libya, is to restore some leeway to the Turks and the Russians. According to several Western sources, the political and diplomatic confusion that has reigned in Libya for several weeks is the product of a telescoping between two competing axes: on the one hand, UN mediation supported by Westerners; on the other, the Turkish-Russian condominium which was forged a year ago thanks to the “Battle of Tripoli” opposing the attacking forces of the Libyan National Army (ANL) of Marshal Khalifa Haftar and those loyal to the government of national agreement (GAN) of the Prime Minister, Faïez Sarraj.
Moscow had supported Haftar’s LNA while Ankara had supported Sarraj’s GAN – allowing the latter to repel Haftar’s offensive – in a mode of intervention with troubling similarities to the Syrian scenario, where rivalry apparent between the two sponsors can accommodate arrangements around the delimitation of areas of influence. Once their military presence was established on the ground with their local supporters, the Russians and Turks had indeed tried to preempt the diplomatic process to the detriment of the West.
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