Aguila Salekh Issa, president of the Libyan parliament, visited Russia on December 13, to discuss such issues as fight against terrorism, the ongoing crisis in his country and inter-parliamentary cooperation with his Russian counterpart, the State Duma chairman Vyacheslav Volodin. The parties subsequently signed an agreement on cooperation between the two countries’ legislative bodies, which, among other things, envisages the setup of a permanent Cooperation Commission and establishment of regular ties between parliamentary committees, commissions and groups.
Aguila Saleh Issa’s coming to Moscow is quite symbolical, it being the first visit of a Libyan official to Russia after, let’s be blunt, virtually futile talks on the Libyan crisis settlement that took place in Palermo, Italy, in the middle of November. It is, of course, too early to conclude that Moscow has chosen a side in this conflict. Nevertheless, it received a representative of one of the opposing parties and not the other.
Let’s not forget that Libya has been in chaos since NATO forces toppled Muamar Kaddafi in 2011. The country currently has two centers of power. One is the Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli led by Fayez al-Sarraj. It was established in accordance with agreements signed in Skhirat, Morocco, in 2015, following talks that involved Libya’s leading political forces and some international mediators. Initially, the GNA was supposed to serve as a uniting body and end the crisis. In reality, it became dominated by all types of Islamists, including the Muslim Brotherhood (an organization prohibited in Russia). The House of Representatives presided over by Aguila Saleh Issa, with a seat in Tobruk in the east of the country, emerged as an alternative to the GNA. The legislators have their own cabinet of ministers and, moreover, are supported by the army led by Marshal Khalifa Haftar.
Remarkably, the GNA is viewed as a body recognized by the international community and supported by a number of Western countries, even though its composition, according to the Skhirat agreements, was to be approved by the parliament. This didn’t happen, and, therefore, the government is not completely legitimate, to put it mildly. At the same time, the legislature was elected in a popular vote, and there are no questions about its legitimacy.
But it’s not only about legal subtleties. Marshal Khalifa Haftar, who to a large extent determines the policy Tobruk will stick to, is known for his complete intolerance of Islamists and has been leading an armed fight against them for months. He acknowledged in the past that Al Qaeda, ISIS and Muslim Brotherhood (all three organizations are prohibited in Russia) are just terrorists to him, and he doesn’t make any distinctions between them. Hence the relative stability of the eastern areas. The situation in the western part of Libya and even its capital, Tripoli, is very different. Reports of armed conflicts between various groups of Islamists happening here no longer surprise anyone. Interestingly, all these groups support the GNA, but it doesn’t stop them from declaring a war on each other from time to time. Sometimes it gets so intense that the international airport in Tripoli has to be shut down because heavy weapons are used. The recent protests at the GNA building, involving relatives of militants that had been killed or wounded, were equally symptomatic. All employees were evacuated from the building as a precaution.
If such is the situation in the capital, it is easy to imagine what is going on in other areas. And it is no secret: drug trafficking, weapon smuggling, blooming crime. Importantly, one of the main routes for immigrants from entire Africa to Europe goes across the western part of Libya, and here you can find slave markets, where a slave can be bought for around two hundred dollars.
Meanwhile, some countries prefer not to notice any of that and stubbornly search for political means of settling the Libyan crisis, without stabilizing the situation “on site.” The conference in Palermo mentioned above showed once again the prospects of such efforts. Hence the obvious conclusion: it is necessary to deal with crime, terrorism, and illegal immigration first. But to do this, one will have to choose between the authorities in the west and east of Libya.