Will Libya see Russia's next foreign intervention force?

Will Libya see Russia's next foreign intervention force?
Russia is building its forces it Egypt's western fringes as a team of special forces and drones mass on the border with Libya possibly to bolster pressured pro-Moscow 'general' Haftar.
2 min read
14 March, 2017
Could Haftar's forces get a boost from Russian firepower? [AFP]
Russia is building up its special forces and a squadron of drones in Egypt's western desert fringes, possibly in response to a string of recent losses by Moscow's Libyan military ally.

US officials told Reuters that Russian commandos had been deployed to an Egyptian air field close to the Libyan border.

It is believed they will be used to assist renegade Libyan general Khalifa Haftar who lost control of the country's oil ports in recent battles with rival Western-backed forces.

Egypt has officially denied the presence of Russian troops in the country, while Moscow did not respond to Reuters' request for information about the possible deployment.

"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.

But Egyptian military sources told the news agency there was a 22-man special forces unit in the west of the country, while another deployment was made last month in Marsa Matrouh, further to the east.

US sources told Reuters that the Russian troops were now based in Sidi Barrani, just 60 miles from the Libyan border.

This puts them in a position to assist Haftar's forces in the east, who are on a back-foot after losing the "oil crescent".

US security officials told Reuters that they were concerned Russian forces might be trying to scale down their presence in Syria - with the partial ceasefire there - only to instead shift their focus to Libya.

The country has been embroiled in civil war since the fall of Moscow ally Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 and it is believed Russia is looking to reassert influence in the vacuum that has arisen in the North African state.

The next move might be to help Haftar to win back the "oil crescent" with control of these ports and fields crucial to winning the war.

"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," a diplomat told the news agency. 

Haftar visited Moscow earlier this year, a move which broadcast Russian support for the former Libyan army general who controls territories in the east.