- Russia may have deployed a small special unit in Egypt in order to intervene in Libya’s Second Civil War, according to a report.
- No official sources have confirmed the report but there have been analyses indicating that Russia might be trying to influence the developments in Syria.
- It seems poised to back Khalifa Haftar, commander of the Libyan National Army from one of the country’s two rivaling governments.
- Russia could be aiming at both regaining a foothold in post-Gaddafi Libya and establishing a presence in Egypt.
Russia seems to have deployed a detachment of special forces in Egypt with the prospect of intervening in Libya, which is presently divided among competing factions.
Libya, a major oil producer, has been in disarray since an “Arab Spring” revolution in 2011 led to the murder of its long-time leader Muammar Gaddafi, and destruction of his regime.
Since May 2014, Libya has been engulfed in what is known as the Second Libyan Civil War, in which the government of the Council of Deputies based in Tobruk (also known as the Tobruk government) is pitted against the National Salvation Government of the General National Congress, which is based in the capital Tripoli.
If Russia intervenes in Libya, this would its second intervention in the post-Arab Spring Arab World, after its involvement in the Syrian Civil War since October 2015, in which it has rescued the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from collapse.
Russia’s Alleged Deployment
Russia’s deployment of special forces to an airbase in Western Egypt, near the Egyptian-Libyan border, has been revealed by US, Egyptian and diplomatic sources cited by Reuters UK.
US officials speaking on condition of anonymity said the US had observed the deployment of Russian troops and drones to the Sidi Barrani base in Egypt, some 60 miles (100 km) east of the Egyptian-Libyan border.
The cited Egyptian security sources have revealed a 22-member Russian special forces unit had been deployed to Sidi Barrani.
They have declined to disclose its mission but have informed that Russia used another Egyptian base further east in Marsa Matrouh in early February.
Russian military aircraft flew about six military units to Marsa Matrouh before the aircraft continued to Libya about 10 days later, the Egyptian sources said.
According to US and diplomatic sources, the Russian deployment might be designed to support Libyan military commander Khalifa Haftar, commander of the Libyan National Army of the Council of Deputies (Tobruk-based) government.
Haftar’s forces were beaten on March 3 by the Islamist Benghazi Defense Brigades (BDB) who attacked oil ports controlled by them.
Russia’s authorities have not confirmed or denied the deployment of Russian troops in Egypt, while Egypt officially denied it.
“There is no foreign soldier from any foreign country on Egyptian soil. This is a matter of sovereignty,” Egyptian army spokesman Tamer al-Rifai said.
Mohamed Mansour, commander of Benina air base near Benghazi, told Reuters that Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) had not received any military assistance from the Russian state or from Russian military contractors, and said there were no Russian forces or bases in eastern Libya.
The head of a firm for private contractors is quoted as saying that several dozen Russian security contractors operated until February in Libyan territories controlled by Haftar.
Reuters was unable to verify the present of Russian special forces or aircraft in Egypt from other sources but notes that several Western countries, including the US, have used special operations forces in Libya in the past two years.
In 2016, the US carried out air strikes backing Libyan forces against an Islamic State outpost in Libya’s Sirte.
It is noted that Russian officials have met with both major warring factions in Libya over the past few months
Last week, the US military commander overseeing troops in Africa, Marine General Thomas Waldhauser, told the American Senate last week that Russia was trying to exert influence in Libya.
One U.S. intelligence official said Russia’s aim in Libya appeared to be an effort to “regain a toe-hold where the Soviet Union once had an ally in Gaddafi.”
“At the same time, as in Syria, they appear to be trying to limit their military involvement and apply enough to force some resolution but not enough to leave them owning the problem,” the official added, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
“It is pretty clear the Egyptians are facilitating Russian engagement in Libya by allowing them to use these bases. There are supposedly training exercises taking place there at present,” an unnamed Western diplomat is quoted as saying.
Russia and Egypt held joint military exercises for the first in October 2016. The US and Egypt used to hold joint drills until 2011, before the Arab Spring revolution toppled long-time Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.