Bartolo speaks to Russia’s Sergey Lavrov on Libyan conflict and migration

Malta and Russia discuss Libyan scenario • Irini mission fails to stop Turkish ship carrying arms to Tripoli

Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov (right) meets Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar. Russia claims it is not controlling the Russian mercenaries backing the Libyan National Army in the East
Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov (right) meets Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar. Russia claims it is not controlling the Russian mercenaries backing the Libyan National Army in the East

Malta’s foreign minister yesterday held a telephone call with Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, to discuss the ongoing civil conflict in Libya as well as the migratory influx from the war-torn country.

In a statement released by the Russian foreign ministry, the two ministers were said to have paid “special attention” to Libya and the need to “stabilise the security situation and illegal migration in the Mediterranean.”

“The mood of Moscow and Valletta to help create conditions for reconciliation of the warring parties in Libya in the interests of a political and diplomatic settlement under the auspices of the UN has been reaffirmed,” the Russian Federation statement said.

According to the statement, both sides agreed on joint steps inside the UN, the Council fo Europe and the OSCE to “put an end to attempts to glorify Nazism, falsify history and the results of World War II.”

Russia is considered to be a backer of Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, whose Libyan National Army has challenged the legitimacy of the UN-recognised Government of National Accord in Tripoli.

While Russia has denied its official status in the proxy war,  Haftar is supported by Russian Wagner Group mercenaries, apart from official backing form Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, as well as France.

On the other hand, the GNA is supported by Turkey openly, whose influx of arms to Tripoli and air support has allowed the government and its militias to secure major victories against Haftar’s LNA, now in retreat from former strongholds.

Malta has made overtures to Turkey in a bid to influence the GNA’s hand in controlling organised criminality and militias trafficking migrants and sending them out at sea into Malta’s direction.

Malta withdrew from Operation Irini, an EU naval mission intended at enforcing the arms embargo in Libya, but which is widely inimical to Turkish naval movements transporting arms to Libya.

Yesterday a Turkish ship accompanied by two frigates suspected of carrying arms to Libya, violating a UN-imposed arms embargo, was spotted by EU vessels from Irini near Crete’s southwest. HS Spetsai, a frigate of the Greek Navy, sent out a signal to the Turkish vessel. But Turkish media reports that the frigates issued an ultimatum to the Greek Navy after a Greek helicopter took off from its ships.

A Turkish official, speaking on condition of anonymity to the Middle East Eye, said the incident wasn’t a close one and didn’t put any lives in danger. “Greek ships left as soon as they saw the Turkish frigates. They were miles away anyway.”

CNN Greece, which first reported the incident, said that the Italian commander of the European force ordered the commander of the Greek frigate to control the ship. As soon as the Greek helicopter approached the ship Cirkin, it received a call from a Turkish frigate that sent the message that “the Turkish ship is under the protection of the Turkish republic”.

After the radio message, the Italian commander ordered the Greek helicopter to return because Irini doesn’t have authorisation to intervene with vessels accompanied by ships belonging to third countries, according to the report.

Turkey’s interest in Libya is to prevent the country from falling under the sway of Egypt and the UAE, which would affect its geostrategic and economic interests in the East Mediterranean. Its ambitions are strongly opposed by Greece and Cyprus, who have competing interests on the maritime boundaries in the gas-rich eastern Mediterranean. Turkey earlier this year signed a maritime delimitation deal with the UN-recognised Tripoli government that disrupted Greek plans to import Israeli gas.