Russia’s Mercenaries in Libya
Moscow denies intervening in the Libyan conflict despite participation in it; PMC Wagner
The Kremlin does not agree with the US assessment of Russia’s role in Libya as destabilizing and deny the fact of military intervention in the course of the conflict between the warring parties in this North African country, the media reported citing the press secretary of the President of the Russian Federation Dmitry Peskov.
“Very many countries do not have the right to talk about the destabilization of the situation in Libya after they have actually destroyed this state by their actions in violation of international law,” Peskov said in particular, commenting on the statement of the US State Department spokesman..
Earlier, Assistant Secretary of State for Middle East Affairs David Schenker told reporters that Russia is sending a “significant” number of troops to support Libyan General Khalifa Haftar, whose Libyan National Army (LNA) launched an offensive in April to seize control of Tripoli from the UN-backed government of the national consent.
According to media reports, the number of mercenaries “PMC Wagner” in Libya in the spring of this year was about three hundred people. As reported by Bloomberg, over a hundred more fighters were deployed there in early September. The media also wrote about serious losses among the Wagnerites. The names of at least five dead mercenaries have been identified by journalists.
In Libya, the commander of the Wagner PMC detachment, Alexander Kuznetsov, was also seriously wounded, who, together with three other Wagner members, were awarded state awards at the Kremlin in December 2016. Kuznetsov captured at a reception next to Vladimir Putin.
Experts interviewed by the Voice of America Russian Service disagreed as to why the Kremlin is sending mercenaries to Libya..
Director General of the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC) Andrei Kortunov noted that Russia has interests in Libya related to the possibility of obtaining large contracts for Russian companies, as well as a significant arms market there. In addition, according to the political scientist, Libya is a very important country for the EU, since the main flows of illegal emigrants go through it through the so-called Western Mediterranean route to Europe..
“Of course, Russia does not play the same role in Libya as it does in Syria,” he said. – Nevertheless, she tries to keep her finger on the pulse and diversify her investment portfolio there. It is known that Russia has contracts with both General Hafter and the Sarange government. In a sense, both of them appeal to Moscow “.
According to various sources, Haftar controls about 80 percent of the country’s territory, and has significant armored forces at his disposal..
As the expert thinks, Russia is trying to maintain a balance of power in Libya that would allow it to be among the winners, regardless of the final outcome of the civil war there: “It should also be borne in mind that the Libyan problem for Russia is connected with the Middle East policy as a whole. For example, to support Hafter unambiguously means to quarrel with Turkey. And to support Sarange in every possible way means to create problems in relations with Egypt, which is on the side of Hafter “.
Andrei Kortunov also believes that the US concern about Moscow’s policy in Libya looks quite natural. It seems to him that today any actions of Russia are often viewed under a magnifying glass and look more ambitious and frightening than they really are..
“There are other forces in Libya that are more seriously affecting the situation. I think that the United States is particularly concerned not by the scale of Russian actions, but by their format, ”he summed up.
Oil and gas analyst Mikhail Krutikhin agrees that the oil factor plays an important role here. In his opinion, if one of the groups supported by Moscow wins, Russian oil companies will have an opportunity to take part in the development of Libyan fields..
“And the oil there is of very good quality, and the export infrastructure is suitable,” he added. – That is, you can quickly restore the oil industry and start mining and shipping (“black gold”), getting your share of the profit from this. These are serious circumstances to be reckoned with. “.
In addition, there is a second aspect here, the analyst said: “If state funds from the Russian budget are involved in the program for restoring the oil industry in Libya, they will almost certainly go to companies associated with persons close to the authorities. These are not necessarily oligarchs, but, relatively speaking, friends of the Russian president. And here a corruption factor is very possible “.
So, Russian mercenaries perform a dual function, Mikhail Krutikhin believes: on the one hand, to help the regime, friendly to Moscow, win, and on the other hand, to “rip apart” the state treasury.
In turn, independent military analyst Alexander Golts takes a different point of view. According to him, one of the most important foreign policy tasks, as they are seen in the Kremlin, is the desire to prove to the outside world, and most importantly to Russian citizens, that the country has again become a superpower and is the most important actor in the international arena..
“Everything else is secondary, including talk about the need to conclude lucrative oil contracts and a military presence there,” he says. – In fact, the Middle East, with a rational approach to it, is by no means the important strategic region where Russia must certainly invest its resources. After all, the interest of other world powers in the Middle East arises from the fact that it is from there that the main energy supplies go to them. Russia does not need this “.
The expert explains the presence of Russian mercenaries in Libya by the Kremlin’s increased enthusiasm for secret operations. In his opinion, this is “one of the points” of the current leadership of the country.
“In addition, an illusion has become entrenched in the minds of the upper echelons that if PMC fighters are sent there instead of Russian servicemen, then Russia will, as it were, absolve itself of responsibility for what they are doing there. Of course it is not. But the illusion exists. At the same time, it is quite natural that dishonest businessmen like Prigozhin in such a situation try to fish rather large fish for themselves, ”concluded Alexander Golts.
US sanctions have been imposed on PMC Wagner since 2017.