Published: January 24, 2020
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and UN Secretary General António Guterres flank Vladmir Putin at Berlin Conference (Source: Eadaily.com)
After the Berlin summit on Libya concluded on January 19, 2020, the host, German Chancellor Angela Merkel tried to put a brave face on the outcome and praised the “new spirit” created during the negotiations as “all participants worked really constructively together.” Merkel then announced that all sides “agree that we should respect the arms embargo and that the arms embargo should be controlled more strongly than it has been in the past.”  As the conference highlighted Russia's growing influence in the Mediterranean region, it attracted a good deal of comment, and most commentators did not share Merkel's opinion, although they absolved Russia of the lackluster results, and considered the conference important for its symbolism: Russia had defeated attempts to isolate it and was assuming greater importance in a post-American world order.
Kolesnikov: The Conference Was A Comical Farce
Andrey Kolesnikov, Kommersant's special correspondent at the conference panned the conference as a failure, and claimed that its organizers – notably Merkel did not have the courage to admit this failure. :  First there was Erdogan who insisted on claiming all the glory for himself and Putin: "He [Erdogan] has no illusions: everything that has so far been achieved in the armistice has happened thanks to the efforts of the presidents of Russia and Turkey, and nothing more.
“Moreover, our efforts yielded such a fruitful result as today's meeting of the Berlin Conference,” Recep Tayyip Erdogan remarked without a second's moment of doubt. Angela Merkel's efforts in this direction are hence disregarded.
"Someone will say that Recep Tayyip Erdogan is obsessed with the laurels of the leader, the arbiter of the region's fate, as well as its supreme, if not ruler, then patron. And that he is ready to share this honor maybe just with Vladimir Putin…
"Recep Tayyip Erdogan allowed himself to be very straightforward. Apparently, he indeed considered himself the main player in this field, who holds the threads of negotiations in his hands…"
Vladimir Putin, who had backed Merkel and holding the conference in Berlin, was left with the task of striking a balance between keeping Erdogan happy, while explaining why the other EU and African leaders' attendance was not superfluous.
Then there was the embarrassing absence of the two major Libyan protagonists. "The Gentlemen Sarraj and Haftar, as expected, were not observed in the group photograph. Moreover, by the time the negotiations began, they were not in the building at all."
"Everyone spoke at the conference in turn, and, according to eyewitnesses, it looked strange: the people on whose behalf everyone was spending time were not in the hall, and indeed not even in the building…"
"As a result, Vladimir Putin left for the airport before anyone else, and the rest followed him.
"Only Angela Merkel and [UN Secretary General] Antonio Guterres remained at the press conference.
"But on the other hand, what else could Angela Merkel tell people? That the Berlin Conference was expected to fail? That would have been bold on her part."
"But she lacked the courage."
Mirzayan: Conference Symbolized Post-American World Order
Other commentators were more charitable and claimed that Berlin was a useful meeting as it symbolized the emerging post-American world order and Russia's part in it.
Professor Gevorg Mirzayan of the Financial University's political science department wrote "the sides gathered in Berlin in order to learn how to harmonize each other’s interests. Libya constitutes a huge proving ground where the interest of the great powers converged –the US Russia, Germany, France, Italy Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and partially China. On this proving ground as opposed to the Syrian chamber theater the sides could sharpen the options of conversing with each other within the new multipolar and post-American world order” In a tweet Senator Alexei Pushkov claimed that Berlin had put to rest Obama's claim that Russia was isolated. To rub it in he chose to tweet in English.
(Twitter.com/Alexey_Pushkov, January 20, 2020)
Alexander Tkachenko, Head of the Center for the Study of the Countries of North Africa and of the Horn of Africa, The Institute for African Studies, Russian Academy of Science believed that the conference was important and partially successful:
"I think that a meeting in Berlin was necessary, like previous conferences, meetings and round tables. The results of the Berlin meeting will also be an important stage, because, as you know, the formula 'a bad peace is better than a good war' remains valid'". The meeting, argued Tkachenko proved that the world community is not divided into opponents and supporters regarding Libya but all agree that a peaceful settlement is necessary. The participants also got the priorities right – putting an end to the hostilities and an arms embargo. The problem will now be ensuring compliance.
“If the illegal channels through which the parties of the conflict are supplied will [continue to] function, then it will undoubtedly be difficult to avoid the option of a military solution to this problem. In this regard, there is a need to comply with the embargo on the supply of weapons to this country, as there is no other reasonable alternative so far. That is why international participants should continue negotiations and efforts in order to stimulate both main parties of the conflict to search for a peaceful solution".
Russian Experts On Turkey: Turkey Disappointed With Results, Could Play The Spoiler
Two Russian experts with close ties to Turkey fear that the conference had left Turkey disgruntled, and Ankara would play the spoiler
Yashar Niyazbaev, editor-in-chief of MK-Turkey (a Russian portal specializing on Turkey, expert on Turkey) wrote:
"… Turkey was unable to establish influence, which could provide more leverage for influencing the situation in Libya and protecting her interests in this country. And Ankara’s interests in this case are: firstly, the agreement on the demarcation of maritime borders concluded with the Government of National Accord (GNA), and secondly, to uphold this government. Judging by what we’ve heard from the outcome of the Berlin meeting, the parties agreed to create some kind of common government with the approval of the Libyan House of Representatives. And this is about the other side of the Libyan conflict, which Erdogan does not support. This means that Sarraj, the head of the GNA will suffer, and the Turkish side will not like this. Although Turkey reacted with great restraint- they could have reacted even more harshly, at least to withhold denial that Erdogan left the Berlin meeting ahead of time as a form of protest. They said that he simply did not stay for dinner, although, in my opinion, this was all indicative. If we look at the situation in this vein and pay attention to the military intervention that Erdogan spoke about repeatedly, we will see that in Berlin the parties agreed that military support from the outside is unacceptable - and this makes us think that Erdogan may not yield to this decision… Khalifa Haftar won in this situation, as he has legitimized his status. Turkey used to call him an 'insurgent', 'rebel,' but now he has become a party to the negotiations. It turns out that Turkey's entire game is falling apart."
Ivan Starodubtsev, President of the Russian-Turkish Association for Project Development:
“First of all, it should be noted that among serious Turkish observers there were no high expectations about what would happen in Berlin. At least in the light of the fact that Haftar left Moscow without signing any agreement. Therefore, the best case scenario that Turkish observers expected from the Berlin summit was a ceasefire agreement.
Moreover, it was questionable how stable this ceasefire would be and would Haftar be willing to keep his word and follow the terms of the agreement. But, as we see, nothing happened. Once again, the heads of leading states met, signed a communiqué that was not well understood, and again tried to use the macro-format in solving the regional problems. In the modern world, the macro-format does not solve problems, the micro-format is effective, the Astana process has shown this. Accordingly, in Turkey, there are talks that “Astana 2.0” is needed for the Libyan conflict. It is clear that the President Erdogan’s rhetoric regarding the sending of Turkish troops to Libya will increase. And even, most likely, in one way or another, their dispatch will begin.”
Danilov: The Europeans Should Move Aside And Let More Responsible International Players Resolve The Crisis
Two Communist politicians and opinion writers, Ivan Danilov and Darya Mitina, were pleased with the conference not only because it highlighted Russia's diplomatic role but also because it showed the haplessness of the Europeans. Danilov in an analysis for Ria.ru explained why any attempt by the EU to reassert its role in Libya, as advocated by EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell , was doomed in advance.
"Judging by leaks in the Western mass media among official personages of the EU the idea of another adventurous war is gaining popularity into which some politicians are prepared to join in even without US participation, but fully independently. This time hot heads in Brussels want to fight in Libya. If these supporters of resolving the Libyan conflict by force organize a full-fledged military intervention, then on the one hand this would amount to an application to restore the European sphere of neocolonialist influence in North Africa and the Mediterranean, and on the other hand to open a veritable Pandora's box…"
Danilov claimed that the European reaction was a spiteful reaction to the diplomatic success achieved by Russia and Turkey. "It must be noted that the question of the EU's military participation in the Libyan conflict was raised after the definite progress in the question of solving the 'Libyan problem" was recorded through the joint efforts of the Russian and Turkish leadership. Obviously the Russo-Turkish efforts at normalizing the situation is far from attaining the goals, however it is likely that the very fact of Moscow and Ankara's diplomatic successes is interpreted by some European politicians and bureaucrats as demeaning and cutting back the EU's spheres of influence in the Mediterranean that many in Europe are used to perceiving as a zone of special interests. It is telling that the European countries did not make any noticeable efforts in Libya's direction until recently, but now the desire has awakened to show the world that verily Brussels is the main actor in the region…"
"Warships and aircraft flying over Libya and patrolling its shores are not messengers of peace but a kind of 'psychological tool' with whose help the European leaders coalesces to reestablish their self-respect, to ensure that they are finally being taken seriously, and also put a stop to resolving regional problems without taking their opinions and interests into account. From a psychological point of view, this need can be understood, from a practical point of view - this scheme is unlikely to bring the results that its authors are counting on."
An arms embargo wouldn't work because the country is already awash with weapons and since Libya is not an island, arms can be supplied by land. Stopping illegal migration from Libya is also problematic since Europe will not drown the illegals and no European country is willing to take them in. Unloading them in Libya will start the process over again.
Attempts at enforcing a ceasefire in Libya via military force will be beyond Europe's capacity, even if it could assemble the troops necessary. "But here great difficulties will arise with the European voters' preparedness to receive news of soldiers' deaths on Libyan soil…, especially considering that voters in many EU countries still have a nasty attitude to American intervention in Iraq and will view a Libyan military adventure as its repetition [but this time] via European execution." Relying on airpower to secure a truce will invite retaliation. "Moreover, an attempt to prove to the world community that the European Union in the most literal sense of 'bombing in the name of peace' is unlikely to succeed."
Intervening under a UN umbrella will not work because it will require UN Security Council authorization "In this scenario, we can safely bet that the chances of passing such a resolution are almost zero. The whole world remembers all too well how a similar precedent ended in the context of the death of Muammar Gaddafi."
Danilov advises the Europeans "not to puff up their cheeks and try to restore respect for themselves, but to acknowledge the consequences of their mistakes and come to terms with the fact that more responsible geopolitical players will increase their influence in this key region."
Mitina: Although The Situations Are Different Russia Will Replicate Its Syrian Success In Libya
Writing in the liberal Echo of Moscow website, Dariya Mitina, criticized the Berlin Conference as an attempt at self-aggrandizement in contrast with Russia's constructive approach:
"Absolutely all the observers, who are not bound by the conventions of diplomatic ethics, characterize the Libyan summit held in Berlin as a failure…
"Russia is the only party that actually wants a peaceful settlement for Libya. Rightly noting that the chaos in Libya is completely man-made, and today its perpetrators, with hypocritical faces, are shedding crocodile tears in Berlin over a lost peace in a country rapidly disappearing from the world map, Russia insists on a full-fledged format of negotiations, with the participation of all interested parties, and above all - various influence groups in Libya itself. We are driven not only by narrowly selfish interests - for 9 years, Russia has learned to negotiate with various Libyan institutions, personalities, influence groups, and Rosneft today concludes multi-billion dollar contracts with the puppet Government of National Accord of Faiz Sarraj in Tripoli and the House of Representatives in Tobruk , and with enterprises controlled by the Libyan National Army Commander Khalifa Haftar in Cyrenaica. But Russia is interested in a real, not imaginary, settlement, proceeding primarily from the strategic interests of the region. And it is no coincidence that Russia as a mediator is trusted to one degree or another by all parties to the conflict…"
"The Libyan situation is not at all symmetrical with the Syrian. In Syria, all these years there has been a legitimate government based on the support of the majority of citizens. In Libya, statehood is almost destroyed, there is a vacuum of power, so Russia insists on involving all forces with at least some support in the country in the peace process. Negotiations are underway with the son of the murdered leader of the Jamahiriya, Saif Gaddafi - Russia, through the lips of Sergei Lavrov, has already stated that Gaddafi Jr. should be able to participate in the upcoming elections. True, no one now knows when these elections are to take place..."
As opposed to Danilov, Mitina is cynical about Turkey: "Turkey’s interest is, firstly, to get economic preferences from the hands of someone who doesn’t mind giving them, even if the GNA has extremely dubious legitimacy… Moreover, Erdogan is interested in transferring his own 'ruffians' to Libya, since it is in the army that anti-Erdogan conspiracies and coup attempts mature— let the generals preferably engage in war than intrigue. Erdogan’s internal political situation is very precarious, so he needs a small victorious war like air."
Mitina's sharpest criticism is reserved for Europe: "The Europeans today are reaping the fruits of their crimes 9 years ago, when they, by their combined efforts, destroyed a sovereign country, villainously killed its leader and even 150 thousand of its citizens…True, the Europeans prefer to fight for their interests in the old fashioned way, like a hundred years ago - the absolutely neocolonial approach prevails: to solve the Libyan problem (or more precisely, their investment in it) without the participation of the Libyans themselves…Neocolonialism is manifested in neglect of the interests of the Libyans themselves - all further settlement processes will take place without them, on the territory of third countries. A working group on economics, entrusted with the mission of reforming the Libyan Central Bank, developing investment policies and all agreements with the national oil company, will meet in Tunisia. The Libyan Military Committee will meet in Geneva in a “five by five” format - Merkel said that both Haftar and Sarraj seemed to agree to delegate five people there, but it is not clear when they managed to agree to this as they were not at the conference. But even if this is the case, and their consent has been obtained in absentia Russia cannot be pleased about it - the proposed format clearly narrows the spectrum of those allowed to decide the country's military fate…"
"The "international community" is exclusively concerned about its oil revenues. Not a single format will be viable without involving the entire spectrum of intra-Libyan forces in deciding its fate. The precedents [of Libyan peacemaking] in Rome, Moscow and Berlin showed that the location of the site itself does not matter, unlike the composition of the participants and the conditions of participation. Russian diplomacy is ready to work even in Moscow, even in Astana, even in Geneva, even in Paris - the readiness of all parties to be guided by the interests of Libya and Libyans, and not their own capital, is of paramount importance.
"The Syrian experience should certainly be considered as undoubtedly successful. And there it all began, too, as a brawl between NATO member countries and the Persian Gulf monarchies. Please note how masterfully Russia gradually ousted all outsiders from the process, turning the peace settlement into a Syrian one. It will also take years to achieve a settlement in Libya, but it is in Russia's power to ensure that the years do not turn into decades." source