By Sami Zaptia.
London, 26 May 2020:
U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) reported today that Russia has recently deployed sophisticated military fighter aircraft to Libya in order to support Russian state-sponsored private military contractors (PMCs) Wagner, operating on the ground there.
AFRICOM said that Russian military aircraft are likely to provide close air support and offensive fires for the Wagner Group PMC that is supporting the Khalifa Hafter’s Libyan National Army’s (LNA) fight against the internationally recognized Libyan government in Tripoli. The Russian fighter aircraft arrived in Libya, from an airbase in Russia, after transiting Syria where AFRICOM says they were repainted to camouflage their Russian origin.
“Russia is clearly trying to tip the scales in its favor in Libya. Just like I saw them doing in Syria, they are expanding their military footprint in Africa using government-supported mercenary groups like Wagner,” said U.S. Army Gen. Stephen Townsend, commander, U.S. Africa Command.
“For too long, Russia has denied the full extent of its involvement in the ongoing Libyan conflict. Well, there is no denying it now. We watched as Russia flew fourth generation jet fighters to Libya — every step of the way. Neither the LNA nor private military companies can arm, operate and sustain these fighters without state support — support they are getting from Russia.”
Russia has employed state-sponsored Wagner in Libya to conceal its direct role and to afford it plausible deniability of its malign actions and its military actions have prolonged the Libyan conflict and exacerbated casualties and human suffering on both sides – the AFRICON report added.
“The world heard Mr. Haftar declare he was about to unleash a new air campaign. That will be Russian mercenary pilots flying Russian-supplied aircraft to bomb Libyans,” Townsend said.
AFRICOM said that Russia is not interested in what is best for the Libyan people but are working to achieve their own strategic goals instead.
“If Russia seizes basing on Libya’s coast, the next logical step is they deploy permanent long-range anti-access area denial (A2AD) capabilities,” said U.S. Air Force Gen. Jeff Harrigian, commander, U.S. Air Forces in Europe-Air Forces Africa. “If that day comes, it will create very real security concerns on Europe’s southern flank.”
Russia’s destabilizing actions in Libya will also exacerbate the regional instability that has driven the migration crisis affecting Europe, the AFRICOM report concluded.
For what it is worth, the UN Security Council has passed resolutions (UNSCR 1970 (2011), 2292 (2016) and 2473 (2019) prohibiting the supply of arms to Libya. Meanwhile, on 29 February the EU launched its new Operation IRINI in the Mediterranean aimed at implementing the UN arms embargo on Libya ”by using aerial, satellite and maritime assets”.