Russia and Libya
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The rising tensions in Libya have disclosed external interference. Both the regional and international players are involved in Libya. This article will cover Russia’s role in Libya.  Russian role in Libya gained pace after the emergence of General Haftar. In last few months Russian diplomats are issuing unclear statements on General Haftar’s invasion on Tripoli. Two days after the launch on Tripoli, offensive Russia clearly mentioned that it will not blame any side for this insurgency. Responding to a question whether Russia supports Haftar or not, the Russian foreign minister said that Russia supports all the political forces in Libya.

However, at the start of April 2019, Russia blocked a United Nation Security Council statement condemning the Haftar’s offensive on Tripoli. Russian experts believe that the Tripoli attack was not planned properly, therefore, it met failure. Russia is also providing diplomatic support to Libya’s Haftar. Russia’s defense authorities believe that Haftar’s Libyan national army (LNA) is an important factor in the governance of eastern Libya.

A visible unity exists among Russia, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Egypt on the Libyan crisis. They all are supporting General Haftar. His (Haftar’s) offensives in Benghazi and Derna were praised by Russia as effective anti-terrorism measures. Russia also supported General Haftar when he started an operation to take control of oil riched Fezzan. It is located in Southern Libya. Experts claim that Fezzan operation was financially supported by Russia, Egypt, and the UAE.

Here it must be noted that the currency of Eastern Libya is printed in Russia due to rising tensions with Tripoli. Haftar’s victory in Sharara and El Feel oil field has managed to take attention of international players including Russia. Experts opine that Haftar’s victory can allow Russia to sign massive oil contracts with the parallel government.

Haftar occupied Sharara and El Feel oil field in February 2019. At that time Russia was convinced that soon Haftar will take control of other important oil fields. In hope for oil contracts, Russia supported the Tripoli Offensive launched by Haftar.

However, Haftar could not make a visible success in Tripoli. As a result of this, Russian statements are also unclear on Libya. Experts term these unclear statements as “strategic ambiguity”. Now it seems that Russia will not directly be involved in Libya and will keep its ambiguity until a winner emerges.

Experts opine that there are few reasons for Russia’s support for Haftar. Russia thinks that parallel Government of Haftar in Eastern Libya is legitimate and Russia finds it easy to deal with Haftar rather than UN-backed GNA in Tripoli. Also, Russia believes that sooner or later Haftar will succeed in placing a loyal figure in Tripoli. Then Russia will be in a position to take advantage of its long term support to the Libyan General.

If a war for Tripoli lasts longer it will also benefit Russia. Russian thinktank claims that Haftar’s failures in Tripoli will make him more cooperative towards Russia. Meanwhile, the sidelined government of GNA will also talk with Russia to defuse the tensions.

Now both sides are trying to contact Russia but Russia is maintaining a distance. It seems that Russia will bid on the victorious party. Till that time Russia will maintain its strategic ambiguity. Relations of GNA are not good with Russia. Many times GNA head Fayez Serraj criticized Russian support for Khalifa Haftar and printing of east Libya currency in Russia. GNA claims that printing of Libyan dinars in Egypt has destabilized the Libyan market.

Currently, Libya is not a priority for Russian policymakers. This is why the Russian role in Libya is ambiguous to a greater extent.  However, Russia will maintain its relevance in Libyan chaos. Russia will not move its forces to support Haftar. Now the Veto of anti Haftar draft is the only support which Russia can offer to Haftar. Russia’s support for Haftar depends upon his success in Libya. Similarly, Russia is also focusing on what GNA can offer Russia in return for abandoning Haftar.

 

Related: Libyan Turmoil – Can Issues be resolved militarily?