“Holding elections in Libya is a priority and must happen as soon as possible,” Head of the Russian Contact Group on Intra-Libyan Settlement Lev Dengov stated during an interview with Egypt Today.
Dengov called on Libyan political factions to unify their views on this matter, in order to reach a settlement.
Dengov also mentioned that Head of the Libyan National Army Khalifa Heftar asked for building a Russian military base in Russia, clarifying that the Russian Ministry of Defense has complete intel on the nature of cooperation between the two countries.
On the matter of Russian support to Libya, Dengov clarified that Russia is not providing Libya with weapons as per the UN’s weapon ban. Furthermore, he stated that Russia respects the country’s leaders and “works in the framework of providing advice to settle the crisis.”
Included below is the full text of the interview.
How do you feel about holding national Libyan elections before issuing a Libyan constitution?
Holding elections in Libya is a necessity and has to happen as soon as possible. The different political leaders and different authorities present in Libya need to unify their efforts and they need to communicate in order to reach a unified decision on this matter. Mainly they need to hold a referendum for the Libyan people and they need to ensure that all voters are participating in the elections.
In my opinion, marginalizing some voters could upset some people therefore this has to be avoided at all costs, and is going to require critical analysis and cautiousness. We support Ghassan Salama’s initative, who exerted huge efforts to render these elections possible, as he works directly on ground.
In December 2017, the Supreme National Elections Commission of Libya launched a registration of all voters and it is going well. We hope the elections process will proceed in an atmosphere of understanding between all factions and in transparency. Security procedures need to be ensured and it is important for all Libyans and all parties of the conflict to accept the results of the elections. This way, the elections may lead to the desired results and might help in settling the conflict and the regaining of the normal political environment of the country.
Two years have passed since the signing of the Skhirat agreement in Morocco. What is Russia’s current stance on the political agreement? Do you think that the agreement has expired?
The Skhirat agreement is a political document, and the implementation of the agreement’s provisions need to lead to a political settlement of the Libyan crisis, which is essential for the electoral process. Last December, the international community unanimously agreed on the necessity of committing to the written principles of the Skhirat agreement, and in turn, the Libyan people have exhibited their keenness on preserving peace with their actions.
As for the expiration of the agreement, it is a relative matter. Sadly, many agreements between the conflict’s parties are not carried out on time, and officially the agreement has expired but there is no other option because no other agreements were signed. Thus, the Skhirat agreement still holds as an official political document, which was supported by all parties of the conflict, and because of that it is important for the international community to express their commitment to the principles of the agreement and to aid in maintaining all that was agreed on. If one of the conflict’s parties rejects one of the agreement’s principles, it will lead to a new wave of instability.
Is Russia providing military aid to any parties of the conflict, whether in the east or west of Libya?
Russia’s stance on military aid has not changed. We respect the country’s leaders and work in the frame of banning the supplying of weapons to Libya, and we can help by providing advice which would be aiding in the political settlement process.
Today Russia is uninterested in settling the military crisis and we are continuously supporting the United Nations Envoy and his role. Additionally, we consider implementing the Skhirat agreement an important matter. For us, it is important to maintain the unity of the Libyan state, and providing weapons to one of the political factions or providing military aid could be politically risky to the issue of stability.
Has the Russia provided the Libyan army, led by Khalifa Haftar, with weaponry spare parts in the period between 2015 and 2016?
Russia works with all factions in different ways, and I think it’s best to direct this question to the Russian Ministry of Defense that has worked with the National Libyan Army since its inception.
When will the contracts entailing provision of weaponry to Libya, which were signed during Qaddafi’s reign, be renewed?
Providing Libya with weapons will resume after the weapon ban enforced by the UN is lifted. Libyan parties, Fayez Al-Sarraj on one end, and Khalifa Haftar on another, have requested several times the renewal of the contracts signed during Qaddafi’s era and their reactivation.
There are also economic contracts signed with civil parties only, as for military parties, the development of some projects and the revitalizing of relations are currently underway. Previously also, the Russian-Libyan Trade Center was established.
As for military contracts, they can be undertaken after the weapon ban has been lifted.
What are the updates on the building of the railway lines between Sirte and Benghazi? Why did the project stop? Are there plans to resume?
The contract for building the railway lines between Sirte and Benghazi was signed before the revolution of February 17, and all preliminary contracts have been kept. Currently, we are drawing a map of the line to resume with the project, and a series of meetings took place with the Ministry of Transportation and the Russian Railway Company. I hope that the project restarts and is seen through as soon as possible. We understand the importance of this project to all of Libya and Russia, and the bolstering of the bilateral relations.
How do you assess Washington’s role in the Libyan conflict, especially during the process of liberating Sirte from the Islamic State (IS)?
We appreciate any efforts or parties that aim to settle the Libyan crisis, and we treasure the efforts of international actors in combatting terrorism, whether in Libya, Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, or any other country. We support the efforts of the countries that battle terrorism. In the case that the United States have destroyed IS in Sirte, we appreciate that.
Is there a relation between Russia’s concern for the Libyan crisis of recent and the U.S.’ and EU’s concern with the same issue?
No, on the contrary; Russia and Libya have strong historical ties. It is important for us to maintain the unity of this country and to prevent it from breaking apart, and helping the Libyan people establish stability and build a future, in addition to electing their rightful government and stopping Libya from turning into a fertile land for terrorism.
And that is why it is important to prioritize the security of the region, and there are signs that Libyans view our support positively and show interest in developing the bilateral relations.
Russia was interested in supporting Muammar Qaddafi during his reign. How would you comment on that?
Russia was accused many times of that which it has no relations to, yet I have never heard of these serious claims from Libyans or Libyan leaders at all. Thus, if someone claims that Russia supported Qaddafi, I am ready to confront them. Russia only supports rightful leaders, and we see that forcefully creating a power vacuum does not benefit the Libyan people or the state.
If tension takes place as has happened in Libya, we would never support any party against the people’s will.
I repeat, there are agreements confessed of by the international community and ones that have to be respected in order for the conflict to end. Russia does not doubt the legality of the legally elected leaders, and will not seek to confront or oppose them against the good of the people.
Does Russia truly seek to establish a military base in eastern Libya? Is Moscow ready to support the Libyan army?
It is best to direct this question to representatives from the Russian Defense Ministry, who have complete knowledge on the requests made by representatives from the military institutions of other states. According to the information I have, such a request has been made by the head of the National Libyan Army, Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, but I don’t know if supporting this request is possible or not.
Did Russia come across any operations entailing the transfer of IS fighters from Syria and Iraq to Libya? Are there any regions according to your knowledge where IS fighters centralize?
According to the last terrorist operations, including those in the cities of Benghazi and Sirte, there are terrorist groups in Libya, and terroristic activities are evident there. We have to combat these organizations and we are exerting all efforts to confront this danger with all possible means according to international legislations.
What do you think of Italian military activities taking place on Libyan land?
We know that Libya is an important strategic country for Italy and Egypt, and that their foreign policies towards Libya spring from internal decisions but it is important for their foreign policies to target settling the crisis and maintaining the unity of the country.
Could you clarify the intentions behind the Libyan Government of Reconciliation’s delegations visits to Russia and what kind of cooperation they ask of Moscow?
This is an interesting question. Russia is currently participating in settling many crises, as it is a main actor in the Middle East and Eastern Europe, where the Soviet Union was previously. Therefore, it is not surprising that many different Libyan representatives, including those from the Government of Reconciliation, are visiting Russia. Those representatives include those from the Government of Reconciliation, members of parliament, National Libyan Army, and different tribes from southern Libya; they all visit Moscow asking for support, aid, and advice. They are all asking Russia to help settled the crisis using its expertise and power.
There are different types of cooperation between us and we are working on resuming our economic relations, as we are also helping Libya solve its humanitarian issues, including providing advice regarding the establishment of social organizations that can also help in settling the crisis.
What is Russia’s stance regarding extremist Libyans who have broken through the Libyan political life and who intend on running for the upcoming elections?
The Libyan people alone can decide this, and I think after several years of internal strife, Libyans can solve their own problems and choose the future they desire.
Soon it will become clear who will run for president, and I don’t think that the electoral procedure will be this simple. Until now it isn’t known if it is possible to issue a new constitution before the elections, and will the prime minister or the president be elected. I also think that the Libyan people, who is exhausted by the crisis, will choose those who reflect a vision of the Libyan future. And if a balanced variety of candidates is chosen, this will signal the country’s readiness for the elections.
How are Russia and Egypt cooperating on the Egyptian-Libyan borders?
There is a cooperation agreement in the technical military field between Egypt and Russia; our shared priority is to provide security for both countries, and this cooperation is very important in light of the common combat against terrorism. Cooperation between both countries is important. In terms of Libya; if Libya requests aid in fighting terrorism, and this has happened indeed, then we will help destroy it based on the Libyan state’s or the UN’s request.