By Lou Lorscheider
Kremlin officials and Russian lawmakers are denying published reports that Moscow has deployed a team of special forces and drones to a military base in Egypt near the Libyan border.
The denials came Tuesday, following multiple reports that Russian military activity had been spotted near the Mediterranean coastal town of Sidi Baranni, 100 kilometers from the Egyptian-Libyan frontier.
Those reports, quoting anonymous U.S. officials, say increased Russian involvement may be part of a push by Moscow to support renegade Libyan military commander Khalifa Haftar.
Haftar and his so-called Libyan National Army are aligned with a government in eastern Libya that refuses to support the internationally backed Government of National Unity operating from Tripoli.
Russia’s Ria Novosti news agency quoted Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as saying he had seen the news reports of the alleged deployment, but said: “I have not heard of them from any other sources.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov said: “we do not possess any information of that kind.”
Additionally, international affairs lawmaker Vladimir Dzhabarov called the deployment reports “fake news which should not be paid attention to.”
The deputy head of the state Duma defense committee, Andrei Krasov, said the reports “must be a deliberate act of misinformation” aimed at raising international tensions.
Despite the Russian denials, Britain’s Guardian newspaper on Tuesday quoted Egyptian security sources as confirming the presence of a 22-member Russian security force on Egyptian soil. Those sources said Russia also used another Egyptian base early last month, but they declined to divulge further information.
There has been no formal U.S. comment on the deployment reports.