Russian private military contractors operate on the territory of Libya and other countries of the Middle East.
In accordance with Article 359 of the Russian Criminal Code, activities related to mercenarism can be sentenced to up to eight years in prison, however, this does not prevent existence of so-called private military companies, such as Moran Security Group (registered in Belize), Tigr, Antiterror-Orel, Slavonic Corps (registered in Hong Kong) or RSB-Group, headquartered in Moscow, the Zone Militaire information portal reported on Monday.
Since 2012, several attempts to legalize activities of private military companies have been failed due to opposition of the Russian Defense Ministry and the Federal Security Service (FSB), which negatively treat establishment of such organizations because of fears that these structures, financed by oligarchs, can operate against interests of the state. But, in substance, they are reconciled with the fact of their presence.
So, in recent months, it was reported about actions of Slavonic Corps and Wagner group, the latter of which was established by a former officer of the Chief Intelligence Directorate (GRU), Dmitry Utkin, in Syria. The same was reported about the Donbass.
Though two executives of Slavonic Corps, Vadim Gusev and Yevgeny Sidorov, were sentenced to three years in prison for hiring 267 Russian citizens to participate in combat operations in Syria, while the soldiers under contract were told that they would protect oil infrastructure facilities, some heads of so-called private military companies feel themselves confident. So, Dmitry Utkin was spotted at a social gathering in the Kremlin in December 2016, and employees of the Wagner Group conducted operations in Syria in close cooperation with the Russian Army.
As the website noted, uncertainty of the legal status of private military companies is ‘very useful’, as Russia can ‘officially’ say that it does not take part in ground operations in Syria. In addition, if servicemen of a private military company are killed, this will not be a problem of the Russian Defense Ministry because in this regard there is no resonance in media.
The usage of private military contractors also allows Moscow to operate in those territories, where it has no intention of serious intervening. Founder of RSB-Group and a graduate of the ‘KGB academy’ Oleg Krinitsyn likes to repeat that “what is not forbidden is allowed.” Last year, in an interview with the French Le Figaro newspaper, he claimed that 86 his employees, all of whom are former military with real experience, were conducting demining operations in Libya in the interests of an unnamed customer.
A few months later, Krinitsyn raise slightly the curtain over the secret in an interview with the Reuters news agency. According to him, about 12 Russian private military companies sent dozens of people to the zone, controlled by the national Libyan Army, and they came under command of Marshal Khalifa Haftar and the authorities in Tobruk, which are not recognized by the international community.
Krinitsyn noted that the presence of these contract soldiers was a simple “commercial agreement.” Their mission, which ended in February, was to demine industrial infrastructure facilities in the area of Benghazi, which was recaptured from Islamists by the Haftar forces. In addition, according to Krinitsyn, private military companies have abilities to protect lives of their servicemen and customers. He also noted that “according to the military canons, the attack must be followed by a counterattack. And this means that we must eliminate the enemy.”
The head of RSB-Group also pointed out that his company has not worked with the Russian Defense Ministry, but on the other hand it had contacts with the Foreign Ministry. He did not specify whether the “mission” of contract soldiers was approved by the government of national consensus, formed under the auspices of the UN. But all the facts show that it did not take place.
As Zone Militaire noted, support of Marshal Haftar by Russia is not a surprise. However, Moscow tries to play its role in the settlement of the Syrian conflict, attempting to establish a dialogue between the two hostile governments. On March 3, head of the Government of National Accord, Fayez al-Sarraj, visited Moscow.
Haftar also receive support by Egypt and the UAE, as well as by France, which sent him troops and advisers from the country’s General Directorate for External Security (DGSE).
On Tuesday, the Reuters news agency reported, citing US and Egyptian military and diplomatic sources, that Russia has deployed a limited contingent of 22 servicemen and unknown number of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) at an airbase in Egypt on the border with Libya.
The agency’s sources said that “the US noticed something that probably can be Russian troops and UAVs” in the area of the Sidi Barrani base, located 100 kilometers from the border between Egypt and Libya. According to the sources, the purpose of this deployment should be “support for commander of the Libyan Army, Khalifa Haftar,” who was defeated in the battles with rebels from the Benghazi Defense Brigade (BDB), which attacked oil ports, controlled by his forces, on March 3.
Cairo denies presence of other countries’ armed forces on its territory. Spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry Igor Konashenkov also denied this information. Earlier, Deputy Chairman of the Council of the Federation Committee on Foreign Affairs, Vladimir Jabarov, also said that Russia did not send its military specialists and drones to the air base in Egypt.