There are two centers of power in Libya: the UN-backed Government of National Accord in the west in Tripoli, which has little power and not much in the way of resources for the long-haul; and the Tobruk-based Libyan National Army led by General Khalifa Haftar in the east. In between them, there are smaller factions, the most notable of which is the ISIS offshoot around Sirte.
Locally, Haftar is in the stronger position. He commands considerable military power, controls the majority of the country’s oil-producing regions and has financial independence, and also has the international backing of Egypt, the UAE and Russia. These international connections have been critical in helping build parallel state institutions in Tobruk such as the Russia-backed Central Bank in the East, establish trade routes for the export of oil and so on. But they are also the fundamental constraint to Haftar’s ability to take over the rest of Libya and rebuild a unitary state.
Haftar is seen as, and not without justification, as a Russian client. Russia thinks of Haftar as the next Libya strong man who will continue the relation with Russia as it was with Qaddafi. This, combined with the fact that he does not have the international legitimacy of the Western-aligned ‘official’ government in Tripoli, means that although his parallel state infrastructure would have the capacity to take over the running of the whole country, whereas the Tripoli-led government does not, political calculations will stand in the way of the West conceding Libya to Haftar. They would, after all, also concede Libya to Russia.
The problem is that if Europe were to move to Haftar’s side and Haftar were to prevail and unite Libya, Haftar would still remain a Russian, rather than a European client.Dr. Azeem Ibrahim