Russia is seeking to expand its military presence in the eastern part of Libya, which could lead to the construction of a naval base, writes “Trud”, referring to “Bloomberg”.
The agency points out that this move will give Moscow a significant foothold on the southern coast of Europe.
According to well-informed sources who spoke on condition of anonymity, a defense agreement is currently being prepared between Vladimir Putin and Libya’s eastern military commander, Marshal Khalifa Haftar. The two met in Moscow at the end of September, when the breakthrough came for the former associate of Muammar Gaddafi in his relations with Russia.
The escalation of Russian activity in Libya represents a new challenge for the US and its European allies, Bloomberg notes.
The threat is being taken “very seriously” by the US administration, says Jonathan Winer, a former US special envoy to Libya. “A key strategic goal is to keep Russia out of the Mediterranean – if it gets ports there, it gives it the ability to spy on all of Europe,” he commented.
Russia has had a covert presence in the North African oil exporter for several years through the Wagner group, which settled there after the civil war that followed the NATO-backed ouster of Gaddafi in 2011.
The work done by mercenaries to advance Kremlin interests in Africa and the Middle East has allowed Moscow to rapidly increase its foreign military assets. Russia is also seeking a naval base on the Red Sea in Sudan, which would provide it with permanent access to the Suez Canal, the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Peninsula, Bloomberg also points out.
At the moment, Libya is divided into two administrations – with Haftar ruling in the eastern part. The 79-year-old commander controls many of the major oil rigs, which hold about 40 percent of Africa’s reserves.
According to people close to his Libyan National Army, he is seeking air defense systems to protect him from forces in Tripoli backed by the Turkish military. Also, Haftar is trying to provide training for the pilots of his air force. In return, several air bases now occupied by Wagner will be modernized and host Russian forces.
According to other people familiar with the negotiations, Russian warships could also be granted permanent berthing rights in a Libyan port, most likely Tobruk, located just a few hundred kilometers across the Mediterranean from Greece and Italy. However, this is a long-term perspective as it will require significant modernization of port facilities.
So far, Russia has only one naval base in the Mediterranean – in the Syrian Tartus. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined to comment on the potential military deal.
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