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May 22, 2020

Russia and Turkey double down in Libya

Russia and Turkey have reached another turning point in their proxy war in Libya. The FT reports of a suspected deployment of at least eight Russian-made fighter jets to Libya from Syria. If confirmed, it could seriously escalate the situation in Libya. Admiral Khalifa Haftar, backed by Russia, suffered a series of setbacks including the loss of the al-Watiya airbase this week after Turkish drones destroyed Russian-made Pantsir air-defence systems. The Turks acted in support of their faction, the GNA government in Tripoli. If the new fighter jets are a quid-pro-quo in retaliation, Russia may destroy Turkish equipment, or the airbase itself to make it unusable. The foreign ministers of Turkey and Russia called for a cease fire after a phone call this week, but at the same time Turkey warned of grave consequences if Turkish interests in Libya are targeted. Observers now fear both sides doubling down in support of the opposing factions. There has been a massive influx of weapons, equipment and mercenaries over the last weeks. Wolfram Lacher, an expert on the region, said that the big question is whether Russia and Turkey can step back from this looming escalation, and once again press their Libyan clients to negotiate a ceasefire.

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May 22, 2020

What to make of No 10's Brexit briefings

It could be a bluff, or just the usual High Noon build-up to a deal. But the Brexit negotiations are clearly at the more dramatic end of the scale of EU-level negotiations. The potential for an accident is massive. And both sides would have to shift by a lot for a deal to happen.

James Forsyth writes in the Spectator that Number 10 no longer believes that the gap between the negotiating positions can be bridged. The next round of meetings will be the critical one. The contours of an agreement would have to become visible at that meeting, or it won't happen.

The way Forsyth portrays the thinking within the UK government, it treats Covid-19 as an opportunity to prepare for a new post-Brexit world.

"The prospect of extra customs checks are nothing compared to the airport queues, travel quarantine and temperature checks which may ensue once countries come out of lockdown. The shift towards ‘supply chain security’ means that cross-border supply chains will become less important. The prospect of a WTO Brexit has never been less intimidating."

Also interesting is the shifting position of the Labour Party. Sir Keir Starmer is not pushing for a Brexit extension because he wants to move on from Labour's disastrous Brexit strategy, for which ironically he shared responsibility.

This downbeat view on the probability of a deal seems to come out of Downing Street directly, but not from Boris Johnson himself. He seems more optimistic than others because he believes that people will eventually compromise if the pressure is on. That has been our experience too. But it would imply that he, too, would have to compromise. He has not laid the groundwork for that yet. And the European Council would also have to give Michel Barnier a new mandate. It can still happen.

A further consideration is that this issue plays almost no role in member states at the moment. Governments are not under pressure to relent. Covid-19 has indeed increased the possibility of a Brexit accident.

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