Russia and US butt heads on Libya, as Moscow tries to oust UN Special Advisor Stephanie Williams

Russia and US butt heads on Libya, as Moscow tries to oust UN Special Advisor Stephanie Williams
The role of UN Special Advisor on Libya Stephanie Williams is hanging in the balance, with Russia seeking to remove the diplomat from her post.
3 min read
02 March, 2022
Stephanie Williams has held the role of UN Libya envoy since December 2021 [Getty]

Russia and the US have clashed over the position of UN Special Advisor on Libya, currently held by Stephanie Williams, according to Africa Intelligence

Russia - currently engaged in a brutal invasion of Ukraine - wants Williams ousted from her UN posting, and to be replaced by another candidate.

Williams, an American diplomat, has a remarkable track record in Libya, succeeding where others have failed.

She helped lead reconciliation talks that resulted in the October 2020 ceasefire in Libya, however she has only been in her current UN role since December 2021. 

Russia is a long-time supporter of eastern militia leader Khalifa Haftar, a renegade general who has long been opposed to a settlement with the western Tripoli-based government, which has the support of Turkey and the US. 

Rumoured replacements for Williams include a German diplomat and a former Ghanaian minister. 

According to reports, discussions to define Williams’ future role are still ongoing, as are talks regarding the future of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL). 

The UNSMIL was established in the aftermath of the Libyan Civil War, to support the transitional authorities and aid with mediation and political agreements between the parties. 

Live Story

Africa Intelligence reported that Moscow is engaging in behind the scene activities aimed at removing Williams from her role, and looking for a replacement.

It has also been reported that Paris is sympathetic to Moscow's efforts. France has also provided support to Haftar. 

The US and UK still support Williams. Washington has even suggested that it would put Williams forward for the role of Special Envoy, despite the risk of the nomination being vetoed by Russia, at the UN Security Council. 

Another proposal if passed would shorten William’s mandate.

Discussions are ongoing in New York to find an acceptable replacement, with the current director of North Africa and the Middle East at the German Foreign Ministry Christian Buck - also a former Libya ambassador - named as the favourite in the race. 

The potential appointment of Buck has aroused some concern with his lack of experience being citied as a possible problem for the UN Security Council.

Live Story

Buck has never held a ministerial position, nor any other high-ranking spot within the UN.

Another potential for the post is the former Dutch Defence Minister Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, who is currently serving as UN Special Representative for Iraq and head of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq.

Outside the UN, the African Union has been calling for an increased role in a Libyan settlement process, and as such, has put forward former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ghana, Hanna Tetteh as a possible candidate. 

Despite earlier hopeful signs of a lasting settlement, divisions erupted in Libya at the end of 2021, and resulted in much-anticipated elections being postponed.