Russia has been quietly calling the shots in Libya while maintaining its image of a silent bystander promoting diplomatic dialogue between the warring factions of the country. A leaked UN report, submitted to Security Council on Tuesday, revealed Kremlin’s active involvement in Libyan crisis. The 57-page report, disclosed presence of Wagner operatives, a Russian military group, in Libya since October 2018, “providing technical support for the repair of military vehicles and participating in combat operations”. The report, which has not been made public yet, said that the Russian mercenaries were deployed to support the army of Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar, though Moscow denied any official link to the group’s deployment.
US officials, who had access to the report said that the group is “an instrument of the Kremlin’s policy” in Libya. “The Panel has identified the presence of private military operatives from ChVK Wagner in Libya since October 2018,” the UN report says, according to several diplomats who spoke to AFP on condition of anonymity.
“Wagner has been providing technical support for the repair of military vehicles, participating in combat operations and engaging in influence operations,” the UN report says.
Libya has been struggling to achieve political stability since 2011 revolution, organised to dethrone its autocratic ruler Moammar Gaddafi. Unfortunately Gaddafi’s exit led to creation of more than a thousand militia groups in the North African state, which has the largest oil reserves in Africa. Currently the two major factions that are battling to win control over the country are – UN-backed Fayez al-Serraj’s Government of National Accord and General Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army. The power struggle between the rival groups is mainly about gaining control over the country’s oil fields. Oil industry contributes to over 95% of Libya’s export earnings and about 60% of its Gross Domestic Products.
Russia and Turkey has shown allegiance to the opposing groups to gain access to the country’s oil resources, and their presence has further worsen the state of crisis in the country. Turkey signed a military pact with Sarraj in November 2019, offering to combat the rival forces of Haftar, in exchange for letting Ankara conduct energy exploration in its region. On the other hand Haftar sealed a similar deal in exchange for military support from Russia. Besides Russia, Haftar has been supported by Egypt and United Arab Emirates.
With Russia supporting Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) and Turkey supporting UN-backed Serraj’s Government of national Accord (GNA), it has been a long struggle for the war-torn country to move anywhere close to a sustainable solution, or even a temporary truce. The two sides have been violating UN ceasefire calls even amid the coronavirus crisis with several reports revealing escalation in violence and fresh war crimes. In order to weaken Ankara’s regional position, Moscow made an attempt to distant Turkey from NATO, and influence the continent’s energy policies to make Europe dependent on Russian supplies.
Covertly promoting the rebel section, while overtly standing for constitutional government is an old Russian tactic, which was even witnessed in Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. Russia deployed mercenaries in Libya to help Vladimir Putin successfully gaining control of the Eastern Mediterranean region.