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Russia’s 'leading from behind' strategy on Libya

Russia’s Libya policy is less about Libya and more about Europe, hence Moscow’s preference to let the Europeans take the public lead on the conflict.
Russian President Vladimir†Putin†and Russia's acting Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attend the Libya summit in Berlin, Germany, January 19, 2020.  REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke/Pool - RC27JE9VYMOG

On Jan. 13, Russian President Vladimir Putin traveled to Berlin for a Germany-sponsored peace conference on Libya. A few days earlier, Moscow, in partnership with Ankara, hosted its own talks between leaders of the warring parties — Libyan National Army’s commander Khalifa Hifter and chair of the Government of National Accord Fayez al-Sarraj. The talks in Moscow didn’t lead to a major breakthrough that could have cemented the Russian-Turkish cease-fire agreement clinched between Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul on Jan. 8. The Kremlin might have expected “a key agreement” to be signed in Germany, which also didn’t happen. Nonetheless, the week of top-level Russian diplomacy on this track didn’t leave Moscow empty-handed.

The NATO-led military campaign in Libya in the spring of 2011 and the subsequent killing of its ruler, Moammar Gadhafi, in October of that year had a profound impact on Russia’s relations with the West and Moscow’s own Syria policy. Coupled with Russia’s takeover of Crimea and the war in the east of Ukraine in 2014, Russia’s relations with Europe and the United States soured to the point where the parties have virtually exhausted the bilateral agenda they have carefully developed for over 20 years. The activity on the tracks that until that point kept the relationship going was halted.

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