The Libyan war which was getting dominated by Turkey till now is witnessing a turning point. Moscow is turning the tide on Turkey with two latest deployments- the purported deployment of an advanced air defence system touted to be either the S-300 or even the more sophisticated S-400 Triumf, and the seizure of a key oilfield in Libya, which bolsters the Khalifa Haftar-led Libyan National Army (LNA).
Turkey, which has violated the international arms embargo to aid the Muslim Brotherhood government in Tripoli, had made some deep inroads against the rival Libyan National Army (LNA) led by General Khalifa Haftar which has the backing of the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Russia, with France and Italy so far being in the shadows. While Turkey was leading the show until now, Russia is poised to seriously impair Turkish advances.
Firstly, the capture of the El-Sharara oil field by Russian mercenary groups has made the Russia-backed LNA far more powerful within the war-torn country of Libya. The Muslim Brotherhood government relies upon oil exports for its finances, but with Russian mercenary groups entering the oilfield, the primary source of the UN-recognised government’s revenue has dried up. The renegade military commander, Haftar is now empowered to block Libyan oil exports which will further hurt the cash-strapped Muslim Brotherhood government.
A more serious event is the probable entry of an advanced Russian air defence system. Images have surfaced that suggest deployment of advanced Russian-built high-altitude air defence systems in Eastern Libya. The images show, what experts call a Russian S-300 or S-400 air defence system, near the oil port of Ras Lanuf on the Libyan coast, east of the strategically-located city, Sirte.
The War Zone’s Thomas Newdick says that the purported deployment of the Russian air defence system has followed the landing of a Russian An-124 strategic airlifter at Libya’s Al Khadim airbase. He added, “Il-76 transports – operated both by the Russian military and big contractors – that have been making regular runs to Libya aren’t big enough to handle the larger components of either the S-300 or S-400.”
The alleged deployment of the Russian air defence systems should have left Turkey worried. Till now, the Turkish-backed Muslim Brotherhood forces were advancing eastwards and wrest the LNA from the control of important locations under its control. The Turkish mercenaries were dominating the Libyan battlefield until now due to the backing of Turkish drones.
Last year, the Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli was able to capture the LNA-controlled West Libyan airbase- Al-Watiya only due to dozens of Turkish drones strikes that even destroyed the Russian Pantsir S1 air defence missile systems deployed at the airbase.
Next on Turkey’s list are Sirte and Al-Jufra region. Ankara and the Muslim Brotherhood government have repeatedly demanded the LNA to withdraw from these two regions before the negotiations for a ceasefire are considered. Egypt believes that any Turkish offensive in Sirte and Al-Jufra will cross the dangerous red line, and Russia is bound to share this view.
However, any substantive Turkish air-support to the Muslim Brotherhood forces stands ruled out. Any Turkish/ Muslim Brotherhood military action in Sirte and Al-Jufra might face a stiff challenge from the S-300 or S-400, both of which are capable air defence systems that can easily interject Turkey’s Bayraktar TB2s.
As such, Putin seems to have halted Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s onslaught against the LNA. The Russian President is once again playing the role of a strongman who shows Erdoğan the mirror every time he starts bullying other players in the region. Russia had recently given Turkey a bloody nose in Syria and now Moscow might once again humiliate Ankara in Libya.