image Photo: Reuters

‘Popular mandate claim’ by Libya’s Haftar disavowed by Russia

Libya’s eastern-based military leader Khalifa Haftar declared earlier this week that his Libyan National Army (LNA) had accepted a so-called “popular mandate” to rule the country.

In a brief televised speech from an unidentified location, Haftar declared, “By the choice of the Libyan people, the source of sovereignty, we announce that the general command is answering the will of the people, despite the heavy burden and the many obligations and the size of the responsibility, and we will be subject to the people’s wish in front of God, in front of our people, and in front of our conscience and history.”

He added that the LNA “will be (guided by) the people’s will. We will work with our greatest efforts to alleviate suffering from them.”

General Haftar, controls the majority of the war-torn country’s territory, went on to blatantly reject the December 2015 United Nations-brokered agreement that led to the formation of his rival Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli, in which he claimed the devastation of Libya is rooted. “We have followed your (the people’s) response to our call for you to bring down the suspicious political deal which has destroyed the nation, leading it to dangerous places. You have mandated those who you see fit to leading this phase. This is a time when we express our feelings of cherishing this delegation by the people to this historical mission,” he proclaimed.

Similar to most if not all conflicts in the region, global and local powers are involved in multi-layered operations in their own respective best interests. While the GNA led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj is backed by Turkey, Haftar enjoys the support of Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Russia.

Actions by domestic leaders are not always in alignment with their patrons visions, however; which was evident in disapproval voiced by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov of Haftar’s attempted power-grab. “We did not approve of the recent statement by Mr. Sarraj who had refused to speak to Marshal Haftar. We also do not approve the statement by Haftar that he will single-handedly decide the way that the Libyan people should live. Neither of that helps to find a steady compromise, which is the only way to find the solution to the situation,” he said.

During a news conference via videolink, Russia’s top diplomat further insisted that political dialogue is the only way to end the war in Libya, which is strategically located vis-à-vis Europe and maintains significant volumes of onshore crude reserves. Lavrov said, “During all these events we have said that the conflict sides should be persuaded to negotiate the terms that they can accept to resolve the problems of their country.”

It is important to stress that while Libyan Prime Minister Sarraj has signed numerous deals with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Haftar has primarily sided with Ankara’s main regional rival Egypt and even declared his aspired intention to normalize relations with Israel.