Talking to TRT World, experts say that Moscow has managed to position itself in the oil crescent region with the help of Russian-backed Wagner mercenaries.
On Wednesday, the media team behind the Volcano of Rage Operation of the Government of National Accord (GNA), said that they have detected the Russian Wagner Group mercenaries’ movement in Western Sirte.
Calling the move a violation of the ceasefire agreement, the media office also added that vehicles, trucks and excavators belonging to the Russian mercenary group were seen while heading towards Sirte.
“Eight armed vehicles and four cars full of ammunition as well as a mobile operations and control room followed by drones were seen on Brega to Sirte road,” the media office stated.
It added that another convoy belonging to Wagner Group also departed from Ajdabiya and moved westward, containing three buses, two ammunition vehicles and three security cars to protect the mercenaries inside the buses.
In January, reports emerged that a huge trench was being dug by the Russian-backed mercenaries loyal to warlord Khalifa Haftar, indicating Moscow’s plan to stay in Libya “for the long haul”.
The trench, which extends dozens of kilometres south from the populated coastal areas around Sirte towards the Wagner-controlled stronghold of Al Jufra, was seen on satellite imagery and was bolstered by a series of elaborate fortifications.
Recently, the media office of the Volcano of Rage Operation of the GNA argued that the Wagner group was planning to use these trenches to move oil from the south to the north to eventually be shipped.
According to Abdulkader Assad, a Libyan journalist writing for the Libya Observer and Libya Al Ahrar TV, Russian Wagner Group mercenaries are first and foremost representatives of the Kremlin and their support for Haftar's militias dates back to the aggression on Tripoli.
“They are now securing Haftar's ‘tough stand’ amid the changing dynamics of the political scene,” Assad tells TRT World, adding that the group “aims to increase their opportunities for becoming a main player in the oil industry and reconstruction projects as, through Haftar, they have managed to position themselves in the oil crescent region and in a very strategic geographical area (Sirte-Jufra and eastward on the coastal road to Ajdabiya onward)”.
“This fait accompli scenario of the Wagner Group mercenaries will be their trump card on the Libyan newly elected government which would allow them to have a fair share of Libya's oil and gas industry projects as well as of Libya's rebuilding projects, in return of succumbing to the International community and Libya's demands of the withdrawal of mercenaries,” says Assad.
Commenting on Russia’s endgame in Libya, Assad said: “For a mercenary group like the Russian Wagner Group, the endgame is almost exclusively the same in every country and here we say Libya. The aim is coercing official authorities to grant Moscow its interests in the country and while those interests could very well be rejected by the Libyan government.”
According to Assad, Moscow is well aware that having its Kremlin-linked mercenaries on the ground would force the Libyan parties to consider what Russia wants. This would mean the illegal mercenaries can leave.
“In other words, Moscow isn't fond of Haftar’s military adventures, rather it is establishing through Haftar a base inside Libya: it doesn't have to be a physical military base, it suffices to be a base of economic involvement; especially contracts for reconstruction and oil and gas projects,” Assad added.
Russia’s infamous Libya stance
At first, Moscow openly supported the UN’s mediation efforts led by Special Envoy Ghassan Salame, but on the other hand, the country blocked a UN Security Council statement which looked to call on Haftar to halt his advance on Tripoli and the UN-backed government.
US Africa Command previously stated that thousands of mercenaries belonging to the infamous Russia-based Wagner Group were believed to be sent to Libya. According to numerous reports, the Wagner Group is closely linked to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Several reports previously revealed that Russia has been seeking to secure oil and construction deals in Libya, which "possesses the largest oil reserves and fourth-largest natural gas reserves on the continent."
Despite Moscow’s repeated denials that they operate in Libya, evidence emerged that the country sent more than a dozen fighter jets to support Haftar.
In the past few months, Russia and the UAE have increased their supply of mercenaries and weapons to the warlord. Now, Haftar's forces not only consist of unruly militias who are known for committing war crimes in undisguised barbarity, but also combat-ready foreign mercenaries, which includes Syrian regime militias, former Daesh terrorists and criminals.
Recently published reports also suggest that the UAE, Russia and France are working in tandem to complicate the Libyan conflict and jeopardise all the work of the international community towards peacebuilding in the war-torn nation.