General Khalifa Haftar has arrived in Moscow on an official visit to Russia for talks with Russian officials . Haftar reportedly met with senior Russian officials including Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, as well as the Russian National Security Council
This is the second visit of Haftar to Russia since June when he met with Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev. Libya’s strongman Khalifa Haftar during his meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said he was seeking Moscow’s help in his fight against “Islamist militants” at home.
Haftar reportedly said, “Our relations are crucial, our goal today is to give life to these relations,” adding, “We hope we will eliminate terrorism with your help in the nearest future.” Haftar also said he told Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu about his military needs.
Haftar’s meetings in Russia mainly focused on the development of the military and political situation in Libya.
The Russian defense ministry said in a statement, “The Russian side stressed the importance of the continuation of an inclusive inter-Libyan dialogue, based on the imperative of ensuring unity of the country, preserving sovereignty and territorial integrity of Libya. The readiness of Moscow to contribute to the successful promotion of the political process in liaising with leaders of various Libyan political forces was confirmed,” the ministry statement read.”
It is not clear yet what kind of support will Moscow provide to Haftar, but it seems that something is being orchestrated in the Libyan arena.
Will Russia intervene militarily in Libya
According to some recent media reports, Russia may attempt to intervene militarily in Libya in support of the militia led by General Khalifa Haftar, who is aided by many Arab countries, including Egypt and the UAE.
“if Russian attempts succeeded, Russia will establish the second military air base in the Mediterranean, about 700 Km off Libya,” according to Debka, an Israeli intelligence news website, which also claimed that Russian President Vladimir Putin “is preparing to establish a naval air base off Benghazi coast, like Hmeimim base close to Latakia, in exchange for naval and air support to Haftar.”
After the election of Donald Trump, Putin said he is willing to expand the American-Russian cooperation in the war Daesh in Syria to Libya. According to Debka, Russia is offering Haftar armaments of fighting jets, armored vehicles, and missiles.
According to the Russian proposal, the Russian planes will arrive directly to Libya from the Syrian Hmeimim, or from Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov that stationed now eastern of the Mediterranean. The aircraft carrier can sail from Syria to the center of Mediterranean and reposition off Benghazi. If such a plan was implemented, it would be the first time that Russian aircraft work in that part of the Mediterranean.
Speculations about the role of Egypt and some Gulf countries in Libya
There is no doubt that Haftar has strengthened ties with Moscow recently due to his close relations with al-Sisi of Egypt who has been moving recently toward the Russian axis.
Haftar was described by Debka as Libyan military militia leader that is supported by Egypt and some Gulf countries.
Debka also claimed that some elements in Egypt and the Gulf prompted Haftar to request the Russian support.
It is noteworthy that Egyptian and Emirati air forces provide Haftar with air support from Egyptian bases across the western desert.
In addition, Haftar started extending his power in the east with the assistance of the Egyptian Armed Forces.
Egypt’s Armed Forces have been mandated to protect the joint borders from the sea to the Libyan-Sudanese borders.
Haftar requested the Egyptian army to protect Libyan-Egyptian borders from Imsaad, in the north, to the Libyan-Sudanese borders, as well as the maritime boundaries between both countries, which means that Haftar has granted Egypt unprecedented authority on Libyan territory.
Moreover, the Defense Ministry in the UN-backed government has indicated that “foreign warplanes played a key role in defeating Petroleum Facilities Guards forces,” according to The Libya Observer.
The Petroleum Facilities Guard (PFG) -led by Ibrahim Jadhran- withdrew from the Oil Crescent region in east Libya, hours after retaking Sidra and Ras Lanuf oil terminals from Haftar’s militia known as the Libyan National Army (LNA).
“PFG accused Egypt and the UAE of bombing their forces near the residential district of Ras Lanuf. Four PFG fighters were killed in the airstrikes,” according to The Libya Observer.
The Defense Minister-designate Al-Mihdi Al-Baraghati also said that, “There are strong indications that the UAE and Egyptian warplanes bombed PFG forces in Ras Lanuf and Sidra, we are now making sure of these indications.”
The Libyan National Army (LNA) led by Haftar had taken over oil facilities in eastern Libya from Petroleum Facilities Guards, a rival militia force allied to the UN-backed government in the capital, Tripoli.
Moreover, the oil tankers transporting Libyan petrol from Haftar-controlled regions in the east will be under Egypt’s authority. In practice, the oil tankers will only be able to carry the oil and export unless Cairo approves.
With the assistance of the Egyptian Armed Forces, Haftar succeeded in controlling the oil terminalsin eastern Libya.
Creating a military balance
Though a year ago, it was impossible to suggest a Russian military intervention in Libya, however, the changes that have occurred on the international arena, especially with the election of Donald Trump and the continuous chaos in Libya, suggest that there will be a Russian role in Libya during the coming period.
In this context, an officer at the Libyan General Staff in Tripoli Colonel Adel Abd al-Kafy said, “The target of Haftar’s visit to Moscow is to allowRussia to have a role in Libya, especially that the United States of America is providing military assistance in Sirte operations, and Haftar wants Russia to achieve a military balance.”
Abdel Kafy also said,”Russia wants to have its share of the Libyan pie in the light of the promises made by Haftar to Russia and France to have military bases inside Libya within the framework of a French-Russian undeclared alliance. Like the Chinese and Indian expansion in Africa, “Russia wishes to have a military base in eastern Libya to have a permanent presence in the Mediterranean.”
For his part, Ahmed al-Rwayaty, a Libyan political researcher, said, “Armament is the secret word behind Haftar’s repeated visits to major countries as Russia. The latest visit is coping with international political changes, particularly Donald Trump’s success in the American elections.”
He also said, “The visit won’t make any changes in the scene, as the rest of the European countries won’t allow Russia to expand or intervene in Libya as it will affect its planned interests and projects in the country. As a result, this visit will be formal like the previous one and Haftar will return empty-handed.”
In fact, there are various actors taking part in the Libyan scene, and the international political changes will determine whether there will be a Russian role in Libya in the coming period. There is no doubt that the Western powers which have interests in the country will not easily allow Russia to have a major role in the North African country.
“As a candidate, Trump promised to ‘get along great’ with Putin, startling a foreign policy establishment that views the Russian leader as a treacherous enemy. Trump has suggested that the U.S. join forces with Moscow to fight the Islamic State, and mused about ending U.S. sanctions imposed since 2014 to punish Russian aggression against Ukraine,” said Politico in a report.
“Trump has also repeatedly expressed admiration for Putin and bragged that the Russian has called him “brilliant” — Putin actually used an adjective closer to “impressive” — leading critics to worry that the New Yorker may be dangerously eager for Putin’s friendship and approval, “reported Politico.
Trump’s words as a candidate might suggest a possible swift in the US foreign policy towards Russia and thus, push forward towards a possible deal with both parties to fight ISIS in Libya.
However, some observers believe that Trump will face a strong opposition from his military and intelligence officials.