The outcomes of the Berlin Summit on Libya, the final communique, and the executive baskets, intersect – to the degree of congruence – with the conclusions of the Vienna Conference on Syria four years ago. That is specifically the case for two points; the return of the Russian role, and the retaliation of the American one through changing the terms of the political process references.
Additionally, there is a third point represented by the doubts that such a political-military process may ever lead to a cease-fire which means using the status-quo to generate further military gains for Moscow’s ally in Libya; Field Marshall Khalifa Haftar, commander of the Libyan National Army, as was the case with President Bashar Al-Assad, Russia’s ally in Syria.
On comparing the political-military track in both Libya and Syria, vis a vis the Vienna & Berlin political processes, 10 important intersections emerge:
1.The Geneva Statement on Syria and the Skhirat Agreement on Libya
The Geneva Statement constituted the reference for the political process at hand in Syria after being approved in June, 2012 by the major powers – Russia & the USA, and the concerned regional States under the auspices of the United Nations in Geneva. As the Geneva Statement talked about the ‘Political Transition’ and formation of ‘Transitional Governing Body’ of both the Government and the Opposition, there was an American-Russian disagreement about its interpretation. It, however, remained the sole reference for the political process up until the Russian military intervention in Syria by the end of September, 2015.
The Skhirat Agreement, signed by the relevant parties in the Moroccan city of Skhirat on December 17, 2015, included the parties of the Libyan conflict under the auspices of the United Nations in order to end the second war that was erupted in 2014. The most important points covered by the agreement were: granting the Head of Government’s prerogatives to the Presidency Council of the Government of the National Accord headed by the Prime Minister, starting a transition period for 18 months, and the formation of the Supreme Council of the State of the members of the new General National Congress and the retention of the Libyan Parliament elected in June 2014.
Despite the differences in interpretation, the Skhirat Agreement remained the benchmark for the Libyan political process with Fayez Al-Sarraj as the internationally-recognized formal representative.
- Vienna Conference & Berlin Summit
After weeks of the Russian military intervention, Moscow began leading a ministerial conference in Vienna in partnership with Washington and other major international and regional parties in October, which resulted in Vienna Statement that was produced in December of the same year and shortly the UNSC’s ( No. 2254).
Since then, Resolution No. 2254 has turned into the reference for the political process focusing on one that includes constitutional reforms and elections under the supervision of the United Nations in an 18-month time frame. There has been since a retreat in the discussion of the ‘Political Transition’ and the ‘Governing Body’.
As for the Berlin Summit, the UN envoy Ghassan Salama went to visit the German Chancellor Angela Merkel several months ago to urge her to undertake a role by providing an umbrella of international-regional consensus in order to protect the Libyan understandings to support the cease-fire decision, and launch the political-military-economic tracks. The outcomes of the Berlin Summit constituted the political reference of the Libyan process as was the case with the Vienna Conference. The aim of the two processes was to form a Government of National Unity.
- UNSC Resolution
After the issuance of the Geneva Statement in mid-2012, Moscow wanted it to be issued under a UNSC Resolution, but the disagreement between Washington and Moscow over the statement’s interpretation led the former to oppose the latter’s move; so the only UN document referring to the Geneva Statement was only Resolution No. 2118 which focused on Chemical Disarmament by the end of 2013. The two parties quickly agreed to issue the Vienna Document within the Resolution No. 2254. However, in Berlin, Russia is trying to speed up the issuance of the international summit outcomes under an international resolution that supports the Libyan understandings.
- The ‘International Support Group’ and the ‘International Follow-Up Group’
The first group was formed of 22 countries that participated in the Vienna Conference, as their representatives were holding periodic meetings in Geneva to follow up the humanitarian issue. The American and Russian representatives continued to follow up the implementation of a cease-fire by exchanging information through military officials. As for the ‘International Follow-Up Group’, it is set to meet once a month, and be headed by the UN delegation to review the implementation of the Berlin Summit on Libya.
- Legitimacy and International Recognition
The Syrian government is recognized by the United Nations despite the opposition of some Western countries, but it has not participated in the drafting of the Geneva and the Vienna Statement. As for Libya, the Government of National Accord headed by Fayez Al-Sarraj is internationally-recognized, but the Russian support differs in both cases. There is no doubt that the stipulations of the ‘Vienna Path’ and Resolution No. 2254 were all about the ‘Government of the Syrian Arab Republic’, however, after the talks they only became about the ‘Syrian Regime’. There are speculations that the direction taken by the Berlin Summit shall be to reinforce Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, Vladimir Putin’s ally, while reducing the legitimacy granted to Fayez Al-Sarraj, Erdogan’s ally, through generating a new political body in Libya.
- A United Nations Path
The Berlin Summit paved the way for the formation of a military committee constituted of representatives of the Government of National Accord and the Libyan National Army, five representatives each . They are set to hold meetings in Geneva under the auspices of the United Nations in order to strengthen the truce, and then to launch the 5+5 negotiations that are meant to open the door for a permanent cease-fire from both sides.
On the Syrian side, the current gap is much wider among the Syrian factions, as it was exacerbated by the interventions of the United States and Russia and their respective allies in the conflict. Holding the Libyan meetings in Geneva conforms to the Syrian experiment with the same goal of establishing an ‘Inclusive Government’ or a ‘Unified Council’.
- Regional Path
In addition to the international track taken in Geneva, Russia has managed to launch another track among the three guarantors: Russia, Turkey and Iran, to deal with several issues such as a cease-fire and the political process. At the Berlin Summit, there was an agreement to pursue another political track. Pursuant to the stipulations of the Skhirat Agreement, the UN mission has launched a process to establish a forum for Libyan political dialogue, to be held outside of Libya by the end of the current month, perhaps to be hosted by a concerned regional state.
- Three Lists
The Berlin Summit’s political track has included the formation of the Libyan Political Dialogue, comprised of 40 representatives to be selected upon consultations with key Libyan parties. As per the obtained information, the mentioned list shall include 13 representatives from the Libyan Parliament (East of Libya), 13 representatives from the Presidency Council (West of Libya, the Government of National Accord), and 14 representatives to be named by the UN envoy. In the Syrian experiment, the UN envoy, Geir Pedersen, was solely responsible for forming the constitutional committee: 50 representatives from the Government, 50 representatives from the Opposition, and other 50 representatives to be named by the UN envoy himself. The principles of power -sharing UN Facilitation and quota were evidently present in both the Syrian and Libyan Experiments.
- The Syrian & Libyan Baskets
The Syrian Political Process resulted in selling the Russian ‘Four Baskets’ to the United Nations, to include the discussion of several issues like: Combating Terrorism, Constitutional Reform, Elections, and Political Transition by the government and opposition representatives. Within the annexes of the Berlin Summit, there was a proposal to form another ‘Six Baskets’ to include several political, economic, financial, security, humanitarian and armament embargo issues. The difference between that and the Syrian Experiment was about setting the priorities of the discussions, and the Libyan process shall never deviate from the same.
- The Libyan & Syrian Ownership
It is true that the Geneva Statement and the Vienna Conference were held in absence of the Syrians themselves. It is also true that the Berlin Summit convened without the direct participation of Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar and Fayez Al-Sarraj, the two tracks deeply stress on the ownership and leadership of the political process for both Libya and Syria. However, the international parties have intervened to halt more interventions.
Therefore, the Berlin Summit has revealed the obvious retreat of the American role, the stark advance of the Russian one. It has confirmed Moscow’s deep desire to avenge the Western intervention to change the Libyan Regime. That was Russia’s goal in Vienna Conference as to play a leadership role in the Syrian process amid the United States & its Allies’ confusion.