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Russia's growing intervention in Libyan civil war

  • 7 Mar 2019

After Syria, Russia focuses its attention on Libya by supporting mercenaries and sending weapons to Khalifa Haftar, who is controlling the east of the country.

In this video grab taken from a video released by the Libyan National Army shows Yevgeny Prigozhin, second right, attending a meeting Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Gen. Valery Gerasimov, chief of staff of Russia's armed with Libyan National Army head Khalifa Hifter, in Moscow, Russia, on Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2018. ( AP )

Russia has been engaging in Libyan politics by supporting Khalifa Haftar, supplying him with mercenaries and weaponry.

Haftar leads the Tobruk-based Libyan National Army (LNA), which controls the eastern part of the country.

According to The Telegraph, Russia's largest military contractor Wagner Group has been sending mercenaries to help Haftar’s forces in Benghazi. Wegner is also supporting the LNA with tanks, artillery, drones, and ammunition.

Russian support to Haftar is not only restricted to Wagner, there are hundreds of other mercenaries in eastern Libya taking part in LNA’s operations. 

In video footage published by Russian news outlet Novaya Gazeta, Putin's close aide, also known as ‘Putin's chef', Yevgeny Prigozhin, participated in talks between Haftar and Russian military officials. Prigozhin was reportedly representing the Wagner Group. He was sanctioned by the United States for leading an online campaign to intervene in the US presidential elections in 2016.

By providing both logistical and military assistance to Haftar, Moscow is trying to expand its presence in Africa.

Russia's direct engagement in the Libyan civil war was criticised by the top general of US military operations in Africa on February 7.

"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," said General Thomas Waldhauser, Commander of Africa Command (AFRICOM).

"They want to have influence on the continent,” Waldhauser commented in reference to Russian activities in the region.

Libya is divided into the UN-recognised government in Tripoli and a parallel version in the east backed by Haftar, whose forces control the east.

The UN-backed Tripoli government and Haftar’s supporting eastern administration have reached an agreement to hold elections by the end of the year, however, they have not yet set a date. 

The LNA had seized a pumping substation for the El Sharara oil field on January.

Controlling the oil fields in El Sharara will be important in any future elections, particularly with two administrations claiming the right to govern the country.

How did Libya come to this point?

Libya has been mired in conflict since the 2011 Arab uprisings and the subsequent overthrow of leader Muammar Gaddafi, leaving the country with two main rival governments. 

The Government of National Accord (GNA), is based in Tripoli and was formed as part of a UN-brokered process laid out in the 2015 Libyan Political Process.

The Tobruk-based House of Representatives was formed after 2014 elections and is led by the powerful general of the self-styled Libyan National Army, Khalifa, who is strongly backed by Egypt's President Abdel Fattah el Sisi.

The Tobruk government was the internationally-recognised government until the signing of the Libyan Political Agreement in December 2015.

In addition to these two rival administrations, there are several militias that wield considerable influence and control large swathes of territory in the country, many of which have tribal alliances.

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