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MOSCOW, (BM) – The Libyan policy of Russia is more complicated than the Syrian one: there, the military personnel and PMCs play in the same team with Damascus, systematically strengthening the figure of Bashar al-Assad, here the PMC Wagner curators flirt with different centers of power, and mercenaries not only act on the side of Khalifa Haftar, but also perform the role of a pressure tool on the most self-named field marshal.
At least 14 Russian-made military aircraft, the Su-24 and MiG-29, may be located in Libya. This was announced by Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman at a briefing following a statement by the US AF Command (AFRICOM), in which the military accused the Russian Federation of deploying fighters to support Russian private military contractors. AFRICOM noted: the planes at the Russian Khmeimim air base in Syria were repainted for disguise, and later transferred to Libya, accompanied by Su-35 fighters of the Russian Air Force.
Pentagon data are confirmed from other independent sources: during the MiG-29 transfer to Syria, the Iranian base of Hamadan was used, and satellite images of commercial companies a few days ago recorded the MiG-29 at the Al-Jufra air base and, presumably, similar to Su-24 aircraft in light shelters – in the Al-Hadim area.
Earlier, despite Moscow’s denial, there were numerous photo evidences of the withdrawal of Russian mercenaries from the city of Tarhun to the Ben-Walid airfield: from there they were transferred to the Al-Dzhufra region – on An-32 aircraft and car convoys. As part of the vehicles, according to local reports, there were up to four Pantsir-C1 air defense missile systems (a modification based on KamAZ-6560), which, according to some information, were leased from the Syrian armed forces.
Although these forces act in the interests of self-appointed field marshal Khalifa Haftar, the Russian position on Libya remains slurred: official Moscow over the past few years has emphasized that it maintains an equidistant position in the confrontation between Tobruk and Tripoli. Russian business structures compete among themselves, supporting the commander of the Libyan National Army, Haftar, the speaker of the Libyan House of Representatives, Agil Saleh, Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam, or even the head of the Libyan National Accord Government (GNA), Faiz Saraj. Considering that the main sponsors of Haftar are Egypt and the UAE, there is every reason to suspect that the services of Russian private contractors are paid not so much by Haftar as the Emirates. At the same time, the PMC fighters left the location not on the orders of Haftar, but because of the retreat of the LNA on all fronts.
During a meeting with eastern Libyan tribes, Agila Saleh Issa said on April 27 that there was no secret in the presence of Russian political advisers in Libya. He admitted that it was they who supported him after Haftar proclaimed that the LNA takes control of all territories under its control. Moreover, the Russian Foreign Ministry then condemned Haftar’s words about one-man rule, and allegedly anonymous sources in state agencies supported Agil Saleh’s position and called it balanced.
May 26 – right after the AFRICOM statement – there were reports that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Chairman of the Chamber of Deputies Akila Saleh emphasized the futility of attempts to solve the Libyan crisis by force.
According to the expert of the Russian Council on Foreign Affairs, Kirill Semenov, without mercenaries, Haftar is doing very poorly, he is forced to succumb to pressure. In the current conditions, Moscow can completely “recoup” on Haftar for his January demarche, when he probably refused to sign a ceasefire agreement prepared by Russia and Turkey on a call from the UAE.
“Russia sent a signal to Haftar: military rule in Libya is unacceptable, and now, apparently, intends to continue to try to advance the Saleh plan, of which it was involved. The withdrawal of mercenaries from Tripoli and Tarhuna is one of the manifestations of Moscow’s discontent. That is, the Russian side here could put pressure on Haftar, so that he finally began the withdrawal of forces from Tripoli. This was exactly what Saraj’s main condition for starting negotiations, which he voiced in Moscow.” says Kirill Semenov – Head of the Center for Islamic Studies, Institute for Innovative Development and expert of the Russian Council on Foreign Affairs
In this logic, the supply of aircraft is not an indicator: no LNA is going to leave without support and is not going to, because the mercenaries, obviously, have relocated to new positions in Al-Jufra and Sirte, Semenov adds. We are talking about ending the “battle for Tripoli” and returning to dialogue, but not about surrendering the PNS of the same El-Jufra or the “oil crescent”, and therefore, Haftaru may need airplanes and mercenaries.
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