Russian military assets in Al Khadim airfield, Libya, 2020
“Libya offers at least two advantages to Russia: its ports are only about an hour’s flight from the European coast, and its air bases in the south are very close to Sudan and the African Sahel countries…”
A series of recent diplomatic visits involving Russian officials and Libyan military leader Khalifa Haftar could eventually lead to deepening bilateral military relations, according to regional press coverage.[i] In August, Russian Deputy Defense Minister Yunus-Bek Yevkurov led the first-ever Russian military delegation to visit Haftar.[ii] Yevkurov went back less than a month later, in mid-September, quickly followed by a visit to Moscow by Haftar, where he met with Russian President Putin and Defense Minister Shoigu. According to the first excerpt from al-Araby al-Jadeed, a Qatari-aligned daily newspaper, Haftar is seeking a more formal defense relationship with Russia, which would include official political recognition for Haftar and his allies, as well as sustained military support for forces under Haftar’s control. In exchange, per the second accompanying excerpt, from the Turkish news agency Anadolu Agency, Russia would establish a long-term aerial and naval military presence in eastern Libya, similar to its current presence in Syria.As the excerpt notes, Libya’s proximity to Europe, the Sahel, and Sudan gives it unique geopolitical value to Russia, creating a corridor of influence linking its bases in Syria to territories ruled by friendly governments in the African Sahel. Although the discussions remain nothing more than talks at the moment, the intensity of Russia’s military-diplomatic efforts signals Moscow’s growing interest in increasing its military influence in eastern Libya.
“حفتر يجري لقاءات مكثفة مع مسؤولين في روسيا: بحث عن شراكة عسكرية معلنة؟
(Haftar holds intensive meetings with Russian officials: Seeking over military partnership?),” al-Araby al-Jadeed (Qatari-aligned daily), 28 September 2023. https://www.alaraby.co.uk/politics/حفتر-يجري-لقاءات-مكثفة-مع-مسؤولين-روس-بحث-عن-شراكة-عسكرية-معلنة
In other details about Haftar’s discussions in Moscow, sources’ information agreed that Haftar asked Moscow to upgrade the level of bilateral relations by signing a defense and security agreement stipulating that he would obtain more military equipment, such as Russian air defense systems, drones, and the establishment of advanced workshops to maintain his militia’s military equipment, most of which are Russian-made.
According to the same sources, Moscow summoned Haftar after he repeated his request during Yevkirov’s two visits to Benghazi, last August and the week before last. The sources confirmed that the discussions are still in early stages, as Moscow is still unwilling to officially announce its presence in Libya by signing any official and announced agreement.
“حفتر بين مطرقة العقوبات الأمريكية وسندان الدعم الروسي
(Haftar between the hammer of US sanctions and the anvil of Russian support),” Anadolu Agency (Turkish news agency), 2 October 2023. https://www.aa.com.tr/ar/التقارير/حفتر-بين-مطرقة-العقوبات-الأمريكية-وسندان-الدعم-الروسي-إضاءة/3005791
… Haftar has not abandoned Russian support and is asking for a price in return, not the least of which is recognition of his legitimacy and the provision of heavy and advanced weapons such as combat aircraft, drones, and air defense systems… [Russia] is still prepared to provide more weapons and training to his soldiers, and maintain military equipment in exchange for establishing its military presence on the southern front of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). This makes it difficult for Haftar to choose between US sanctions and Russian military and diplomatic support…
Libya offers at least two advantages to Russia: its ports are only about an hour’s flight from the European coast, and its air bases in the south are very close to Sudan and the African Sahel countries. Although Wagner elements were deployed in several Libyan air bases in the east and south, such as Al-Jufra (central), Al-Kharrouba (east), Brak Al-Shati and Tamanhint (south), they have not yet been able to have an independent naval base in Sirte nor an air base in Al-Jufra (east of Tripoli)—as is the case with the Hmeimim air base and Tartus naval base in Syria—due to American pressure on Haftar. Therefore, observers expect that Moscow will seek to seize more than one military base in Libya, and connect them to its air supply line from Russia to Syria, passing through Libya and from there to its allies in Sudan and the African Sahel countries, all the way to the Central African Republic.
[i] For additional reporting and context, see: “Russia Seeks to Expand Naval Presence in the Mediterranean,” Wall Street Journal, 15 September 2023. https://www.wsj.com/world/africa/russia-seeks-to-expand-naval-presence-in-the-mediterranean-b8da4d; “Libya: The security relationship between Khalifa Haftar and Moscow is intensifying,” Le Monde, 11 October 2023. https://www.lemonde.fr/en/le-monde-africa/article/2023/10/11/libya-the-security-relationship-between-khalifa-haftar-and-moscow-is-intensifying_6162923_124.html; and “After Libya’s floods, Russia throws its weight behind Haftar,” The New Arab, 9 October 2023. https://www.newarab.com/analysis/after-libyas-floods-russia-throws-its-weight-behind-haftar
[ii] The Russian Defense Ministry’s Telegram channel reported on it being the first-ever such visit https://t.me/mod_russia/29689. Yevkurov first visit was on 22 August, the day before the head of the Wagner Group was killed in an airplane crash and in the context of reassuring African countries with Wagner presence that the PMC was now under government control. Yevkurov returned to Libya on 17 September, in the aftermath of the Derna floods. Haftar traveled to Moscow on 28 September.
Image: Russian military assets in Al Khadim airfield, Libya, 2020
Source: US AFRICOM Public Affairs, https://www.africom.mil/pressrelease/33034/russia-and-the-wagner-group-continue-to-be-in
Attribution: Public Domain