The US is alleging that Russia is supporting Libyan Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, leading of the Libyan National Army (LNA) behind the scenes.
On March 7th, during a House Armed Services Committee hearing, General Thomas Waldhauser, USMC, Commander of AFRICOM had the following to say regarding alleged Russian backing of the LNA:
“Behind the scenes, there’s no doubt about the fact they [Russia] supported the LNA with all kinds of equipment, people, training, and the like. And they’ve supported Hafta. …[Support for Haftar] gives them influence and it gives them influence in a key location in the southern [Mediterranean], on the southern part of NATO, if you will, and it allows them then to reinvigorate some old [dictator Muammar] Gaddafi era contracts in the oilfield, weapon sales, and the like. So there’s a strategic interest for them to be behind both sides [including the United Nations-brokered government], but primarily, really, Haftar.”
The claims about the growing Russian inflluence in Libya are being reonfirced by multiple speculations in British media.
In February, The Telegraph alleged that Russian mercenaries form the mythical Wagner group are backing up Haftar in Libya, as Moscow wishes to increase its influence in the country and African region.
“The murky private military company Wagner Group has been supporting Khalifa Haftar with 300 personnel in Benghazi and has supplied his Libyan National Army with artillery, tanks, drones and ammunition, a Whitehall source said.
The Russian defense ministry did not respond to requests for comment. …The news of Wagner’s involvement in Libya corresponds with Russia’s push to increase influence in Africa through an arsenal ranging from arms and energy deals to covert military and political support.”
The Telegraph also cited an anonymous source in the Libyan Russian Oil & Gas Joint Company in April 2018 that lots of Wagner fighters went [to Libya], and there are rumors that military personnel also went there”.
“They are trying to secure the deep-water ports of Tobruk and Derna for the Russian Fleet” and also “could control the flow of oil to southern Europe” if they take over Libya’s energy industry, the anonymous source added.
On March 5th, the LNA dismissed the Telegraph’s report as “ridiculous.” Spokesman of the General Command of the Libyan National Army (LNA), General Brigadier Ahmed al-Mesmari denied the allegations regarding the presence of “Russian mercenaries.”
In a statement to The Address, Al-Mesmari dismissed these allegations as “ridiculous”, pointing out that this is not the first time The Telegraph publishes such allegations which the newspaper attributes to anonymous sources.
“This same newspaper published a while ago allegations over the existence of a Russian naval base in Benghazi,” Al-Mesmari explained.
“We then invited the newspaper, during a press conference, to visit [LNA’s General Command] and walk us through the naval base that it’s talking about. However, the newspaper chose instead to continue spreading rumors and lies,” he said.
Al-Mesmari also said that the presence of 300 Russian mercenaries would mean there are almost two battalions which entered Libya wouldn’t anybody noticing.
Al-Mesmari pointed out to the ongoing media clash between the West and Russia in the light of old differences between the two. Al-Mesmari rejected dragging LNA in the midst of this clash by spreading “such propaganda” and “marketing it to local and international public opinion.”
“The more achievements and advances LNA is accomplishing on the ground; the more these rumors and reports, based on anonymous sources, intensify. This is similar to what some of the dubious media in Libya does. We are used to this and we no longer care about it.”
In early February, General Waldhauser once more cautioned about the presence of “oligarch-funded, quasi-mercenary” Russian “military advisors” in Africa.
“By employing oligarch-funded, quasi-mercenary military advisors, particularly in countries where leaders seek unchallenged autocratic rule, Russian interests gain access to natural resources on favourable terms,” Waldhauser said.
Waldhauser has been warning of Russia’s “interference” in Libya since 2017.
“Senator, Russia is trying to exert influence on the ultimate decision of who becomes, and what entity becomes, in charge of the government inside Libya,” added Gen. Waldhauser when questioned by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC). “They’re working to influence that decision.”
Back then he also pointed out that General Haftar boarded the Russian warship Admiral Kuznetsov in January 2017. The Admiral Kuznetsov parked off the coast of the eastern Libyan town of Tobruk to take Haftar on board, where he met with Russian officers and spoke via video link to Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu.
According to Waldhauser’s allegations, Haftar took a trip to Russia “on the carrier with the Russians. He’s also visited in the country of Russia. Also, this week it’s reported in the open press, [Prime Minister Fayez al-] Sarraj from the Government of National Accord has also visited Russia.”
In late 2018, Western media also reported that Russia is sending troops and missiles to east Libya and is setting up two military bases.
“The Sun can reveal that “dozens” of officers from the GRU military spy service as well as its Spetznaz special forces wing are already on the ground in eastern Libya, initially carrying out training and liaison roles.”
“Russia’s devastating Kalibr anti-ship missiles and state of the art S300 air defence missile systems are also now believed to be on the ground in Libya.”
There has been no real confirmation of any such reports.
Furthermore, the establishment of Russian military bases in Libya, as well as mercenary presence is reinforced by reports and footage showing Yevgeny Prigozhin sitting at a table with Haftar and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu during talks in November.
After all, Prigozhin is dubbed “Putin’s chef” and Western media continues claiming he is related to the mythical Wagner Group despite his continuous denial of any such thing.
Breitbart also reported that forces loyal to Haftar killed civilians and razed 100 homes in Libya. They did so because they are Russian-backed, according to the outlet. The fact that Haftar is allegedly Russian-backed is mentioned, regardless of the fact that none of the cited reports by human rights groups and outlets mention Russia in the slightest.
It is clear that Russia has a presence of “soft power” in Libya and the region, it becomes apparent from Haftar’s visits to Moscow, as well as co-operation with other countries in Africa such as the Central African Republic.
The US, the UK and Western Media are, however, attempting to allege that the situation is much different than what it is in reality.
The fact of the matter is that the Government of National Accord, the UN-established “government” in Tripoli has control over almost no part of the country and must rely on local warlords, criminals and militant groups to achieve a semblance of control.
It may appear that the only apparent chance to restore stability in Libya is to assist and guarantee the expansion of the LNA so that control in the country may be consolidated and then normality and stability may be reached.
Another interesting fact is that the aforementioned style of coverage of Russian actions is being widely employed in Syria where mainstream media outlets and Western diplomats do their best to find a “ngative side” of Russian-backed efforts aimed at combating ISIS, al-Qaeda and al-Qaeda-style groups across the country.
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