MOSCOW - Russia said it made progress after hosting indirect peace talks aimed at ending the conflict in Libya — despite failing to secure an open ended cease-fire deal between the warring sides in the nine-month war.“
Today we can report that some progress was made,” said Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, at a press conference late Monday in which he described the eight-hour parallel negotiations with co-mediator Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu as “serious talks.”
The head of the Tripoli-based, internationally-recognized government, Fayez al-Sarraj, agreed to sign a memorandum that promised an end to offensive military actions and creation of a commission to identify a line of division between the warring parties.
Yet Khalifa Haftar, the commander of the Libyan National Army who has made recent gains in an assault on the Libyan capital, Tripoli, asked for additional time to consider the proposal before leaving Moscow Tuesday without signing the agreement.
Haftar later commented to Middle East media outlets, saying the Russian-Turkish plan “ignored many of the demands of the LNA — such as a deadline for disbanding government forces and creation of a unity government.
In Ankara, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan maintained that Haftar had simply gone back on his word to sign the agreement while in Moscow.
Russia’s Lavrov pledged that Moscow would keep working on the Libyan peace deal "until a result is achieved.”
Libya descended into political chaos following a U.N.-mandated 2011 NATO military intervention that led to the ouster of longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi. Subsequent civil wars have gutted the economy and caused an outflow of Libyan migrants to Europe — often with the help of human traffickers.
The Moscow talks come amid a broader push by Russian President Vladimir Putin and Erdogan to bring an end to the fighting — despite backing different sides in the conflict.
Turkey backs al-Sarraj while Russia has provided tacit support for Haftar’s LNA alongside Egypt, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates.
While falling short of a peace agreement, the negotiations highlighted Moscow’s growing influence as a power broker in the Middle East region — with the Kremlin already involved in the war in Syria and managing a delicate balance of alliances that includes erstwhile (former) enemies Iran and Turkey, a NATO member.
Putin and Erdogan pushed through a temporary cease-fire last Sunday that provided a lull in fighting.
The Moscow negotiations also precede additional Libya peace talks scheduled in Berlin for this Sunday, when Putin and Erdogan are expected to join German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
During a recent visit to Moscow, Merkel said she welcomed the Russian-Turkish diplomatic initiative in Libya and hoped the Berlin conference would give rise to “a peaceful and sovereign country.”
A statement on the Kremlin’s website said Putin had informed Merkel about the results of the most recent Libya negotiations during a phone call on Tuesday.
Yet Turkish Foreign Minister Cavusoglu suggested the Libyan National Army’s refusal to compromise in Moscow had suddenly put the conference in question. “
The Libya Conference in Berlin has no purpose if Khalifa Haftar doesn’t change his position,” said Cavusoglu in comments carried by Russia's TASS news agency.