At the heart of Russian interests in Libya are Wagner’s private mercenaries

This post was published in EurAsia. The point of view expressed in this article is authorial and do not necessarily reflect BM`s editorial stance.


PARIS, (BM) – The changing situation in Libya, the military setbacks of Marshal of the Libyan National Army (LNA) Khalifa Haftar and the tension in his relations with the Russian allies led to the fact that the mercenaries of the private military company (PMC) Wagner were recently exposed to floodlights. At the same time, Russia denies the presence in the country of its mercenaries, actively participating in military operations. About this writes the French newspaper Le Figaro.

“According to several sources, Khalifa Haftar does not want to pay Wagner $ 150 million under several contracts, including for the supply of weapons. The Libyan military leader was also unhappy with the dispatch by Wagner of inexperienced, in his opinion, fighters from Syria, Belarus and Serbia. According to some reports, recently, Wagner’s fighters were recalled from the front line,” says publication author Alain Barluet, recalling that on May 18, government troops announced they had seized a strategic position – the Vatiyya air base 125 km south West of Tripoli.

ANALYSIS: Libya: The next NATO crisis

He reports that when one of the mercenaries dies in battle in Syria, Libya, or some other African country, his body is sent to Rostov-on-Don in southern Russia.

“PMC Wagner and many other enterprises of Yevgeny Prigozhin, who is called“ Putin’s cook ”, take care of everything. Relatives of the fighter are accommodated in a hotel. Before picking up the remains, they receive his rewards and the Wagner medallion, which they put on his grave. In addition, they will receive 5 million rubles, which are due to the family of everyone who died in battle,” Barluet points out.

Officially, these fighters do not exist, and their military company has no registration. According to the journalist of the Russian BBC Service Ilya Barabanov, who has been conducting an investigation on this topic for several years, 8 thousand people have been in the ranks of Wagner for 5 years.

The author cites statistics: in Syria due to American bombing in Deir ez-Zor in February 2018, several dozen of them died, maybe up to 250 people. There were losses in Libya, where since October 2018 they have supported Marshal Khalifa Haftar (together with Egypt and the UAE). According to information from various sources, a total of 35 Russians were killed in Libya, and not all of them were members of the Wagner PMC.

“Some argue that Russia also had regular troops there (in particular, last year) under the command of Lieutenant General Andrei Kholzakov, deputy commander of the airborne forces. At the moment, such a presence is possible, but it cannot be confirmed in any way, the article says. – Throughout 2019, information about this appeared in the American media, but the Russian authorities have consistently denied their role in the presence of mercenaries in Libya. In February of this year, Russian President Vladimir Putin reiterated that Moscow has no relation to the Russians who are potentially located in the country.”

UN investigation

On April 24, the report submitted to the UN Security Council for the first time confirmed the presence of Wagner mercenaries in Libya. It is noted that their number is “not more than 800–1200,” although the authors do not have the opportunity to “independently verify the extent of presence”.

COMMENT: Putin should not be given the opportunity to use military force

These people, whose actions serve as a “force multiplier”, provide “technical support for the repair of military equipment, participate in battles and operations to establish influence,” UN experts believe. They also help Marshal Haftar’s forces in the field of “artillery and air control, use their experience in electronic warfare and deploy snipers”. Pictures of Wagner’s “heavy and modern” weapons in the country indicate that this is not just about a private company, one American specialist notes. The UN is talking about the presence in Libya of mercenaries and other Russian PMCs, such as Russian Security Systems, which are involved in the maintenance and repair of military aircraft. These mercenaries exacerbate the situation in Libya, were indignant about this in Washington.

“The UN investigation also noted tensions between the leader of the east of Libya and Russia. Khalifa Haftar’s relationship with Moscow has gradually deteriorated in recent months. Conflicts arose between his Libyan National Army and Wagner, whose people were at the front during the large-scale offensive launched in January 2019 in Tripoli, where the Government of National Unity Faiz Saraj is located (it is officially recognized by the international community). The LNA is still treading water in front of Tripoli, and recently lost control of several coastal cities, which gave Haftar a reason for accusing the Wagner fighters of the “inefficiency”, in particular the fight against the ubiquitous drones of the PNE (Government of National Unity) forces, which are now receiving support Turkey,” writes the French edition.

The article draws attention to the fact that in the official registers not a single Wagner fighter was killed in Libya, where Moscow does not even have an embassy and consulate. All losses are recorded in Syria. Autopsies are performed in the Rostov military laboratory, which was created during the war in Chechnya. Most of those who returned to peaceful life refuse to speak (in this case, they will not have to sign a new contract with the company) or they demand huge amounts for unverified stories about their adventures.

Be that as it may, a certain profile is emerging in them: these are former military men or fighters from Donbass, natives of small and poor cities. Barabanov notes that we are most often talking about regions with Cossack traditions: Krasnodar Territory, Orenburg and Yekaterinburg Regions. They sign the contract because of unemployment or the need to pay for a mortgage, undergo training at the Molkino base near Krasnodar, and then go to the duty station.

ANALYSIS: Why Russia did not support the resolution on Libya?

At the request of the people

Relations between Moscow and Haftar finally deteriorated on April 29, when he “at the request of the people” proclaimed himself the only leader of Libya. Russian diplomacy condemned this decision.

“According to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, the current crisis in the Libyan settlement process cannot be an excuse for unilateral solutions,” Barliue emphasizes. – In Russia, they clearly came to the conclusion that the ebullient marshal, who went with his sword to conquer Tripoli, is probably not the best option, despite the support received from many Arab patrons. The lack of results militarily underscores the limitations of its capabilities and infuriates influential economic forces, including Russian oil companies, which are unhappy that they cannot continue to work due to a lack of stability. ”

Haftar caused serious dissatisfaction with Russia even before he proclaimed himself the Libyan leader: last winter he left the Interlivian talks in Moscow, slamming the door loudly, the author of the article continues. Since then, Russian diplomacy has tried to diversify contacts and, in particular, to establish ties with the President of the Libyan House of Representatives in Tobruk, Agila Saleh Isa.

According to the deputy director of the Franco-Russian Center “Observo” and specialist in the Middle East Igor Delanoe, Marshal is “not yet abandoned.” In his opinion, Russia seeks to diversify risks in case of problems with Haftar, to let him feel the consequences of his fruitless adventurism by reducing support and to show him that for Moscow he is not the only option.

In such circumstances, Wagner PMCs remain an important lever in the hands of Russia, including in relation to Haftar.

REPORT: Berlin conference wants to ensure that Libya is not the “next Syria”

“This is an instrument of the Russian government that the Kremlin uses to achieve goals for less money and with less risk,” said Chris Robinson, a Russian State Department specialist for the United States. “You should not expect Russia to pack its bags and leave, since it is so involved in the Libyan conflict.”

Already was reported: at the al-Vatiya air base (140 km south-west of Tripoli), which for a long time was controlled by fighters of the Libyan National Army (LNA) under the command of Marshal Khalifa Haftar and left on the eve of May 18 after the assault This military facility from the GNA, led by Faiz Saraj, discovered rare weapons for Libya. Among them is the Czechoslovak 122-mm multiple launch rocket system (MLRS) RM-70. Such combat vehicles were in service with the army of this state in the 70−80-ies.

Also, military experts were surprised by the presence in the hangars of the Al-Vatiya base of old Soviet Mi-24A helicopters, which are no longer in use anywhere in the world. They were bought back in the late 70s and were actively used during the hostilities in Chad.

Meanwhile, the most sensitive loss for Haftar’s troops, which actually surrendered Al-Vatiya airbase without a fight, was the loss of the Pantsir-S1 anti-aircraft missile-gun systems (SAM).


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Original source: EurAsia