US, Russia at odds on extending UN Libya mission

Russia and the United States were deadlocked Thursday over extending the UN mission in Libya, which ends January 31, with Moscow demanding the secretary-general’s American special advisor on Libya be replaced, diplomats said.

The vote on a resolution proposed by the United Kingdom to extend the UN’s Libya mission, UNSMIL, until September 15 had been planned for Thursday morning but was postponed indefinitely at the last minute.

Russia had intended to veto the text before proposing its own resolution for a vote, which could have been vetoed by the United States.

The Russian text, obtained by AFP, asks that “the Secretary-General appoint his Special Envoy without any further delay.” It also proposes extending the mission until April 30 when, according to Moscow, the political situation in Libya would become clearer.

American Stephanie Williams has served as de facto special advisor on Libya, after the sudden resignation of envoy Jan Kubis in November.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres nominated Williams as “special advisor” instead of “envoy” in early December, a move that allowed him to sidestep the 15-member Security Council.

An Arabic-speaker, Williams served in 2020 as acting director of the UN’s Geneva-based Libya mission, after being its deputy director from 2018-2020. She had been a key player in orchestrating progress in the region, including a ceasefire in October 2020 after several years of clashes.

According to diplomats, the resignation of Kubis, a Slovak, was badly received by Russia, which has since sought to regain an advantage.

On Monday, during a Security Council meeting on Libya, Russia’s Ambassador to the UN Dmitry Polyanskiy stressed what he called the importance of appointing a new mediator in the North African nation.

“It’s important that the Secretary-General present a candidate for this position as soon as possible,” he said. “The UN envoy must have sufficient experience in the framework of a mandate decided by the Security Council.”

“Unfortunately, we do not have such a person at the head of the mission at the moment,” he added.

UNSMIL expires Monday evening, which leaves some time to find a compromise between Russia and the United States.

But a diplomatic source said that divisions between UN members are not a “good signal” to Libyans and “will not help Stephanie Williams” in her current role.

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