I am a fighter pilot, and a grandfather — neither of those are particularly easy jobs. Earlier this year, I was given an even tougher job, when I was nominated as the prime minister of Libya.
Today my country is facing one of its toughest battles yet; as Ukrainian troops battle Russia with British missiles, we in Libya are fighting the same fight.
I was horrified when I saw Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. As a Libyan, I know what it is like to see foreign forces enter your country illegally. Since 2014, thousands of mercenaries from Wagner, a private military group close to Vladimir Putin, have been in my country, leaving a trail of destruction behind. Putin’s involvement is something that I utterly condemn, but I must, and can, go further than that.
For more than a decade, my country has been haunted by war and violence. Libya has been divided, attacked by jihadists and riddled with foreign mercenaries. Foreign mercenaries from around the world have come to Libya — when I was nominated prime minister, my message was clear: it’s time for them to leave.
The western world, led by Britain, is now taking the fight to Russian military bullying in Ukraine and across the world.
They have been good to us — our British, French and American friends helped us keep the scourge of Isis at bay. But I want to remind Britain that Libya, too, is a frontline in this fight with Russia.
As prime minister, I have promised to send Wagner home, but I need Britain’s help. The UK will be an invaluable ally in Libya’s war against foreign mercenaries. I want a strategic partnership with Britain — one based on business, security and shared intelligence.
I want British business to help to rebuild Libya and to provide services to the Libyan people.
Libyans do not want to see another decade of civil war. Nor do they want to see the foot soldiers of Wagner looting their towns and villages, after all these years, they are tired, but that does not mean they are giving up.
They want to live in a normal country, a country with a single government, with free and fair elections, and a land free of mercenaries — just like Ukraine.
My country has so much potential. We have the largest proven oil reserves in Africa, and once we get the pumps working again, we will help to ween the world off Russian oil. Libyan oil and gas can help to make up the global shortfall and help bring down the prices of fuel in Britain.
I will work to restore democracy to Libya. I will work with the House of Representatives, who nominated me, and the high state council to hold elections as soon as possible.
My government will work to stem the flows of illegal migrants crossing the Mediterranean.
For years, the sights of people drowning en-mass trying to reach Europe have shocked me. This problem can only be solved with the help of Libya — we are committed to going after the traffickers and the gangs — but again, we need your help.
My British friends, if you want a partner in Africa to push back against Russia, then my government is ready to work with you — it is your only viable partner.
We are close to closing a dark decade in Libyan history, I hope the next one will be far brighter, I also hope it will be one where Libya rediscovers its friendship with Britain.
Libya’s Bashagha denies writing Times article condemning Russia
Fathi Bashagha, one of two rival Libyan prime ministers, has denied writing an article published on Tuesday under his name by the Times newspaper in London.
‘I hope this grand and respected newspaper inspects accuracy to avoid being involved in publishing false articles’ … – Fathi Bashagha
In the article, purportedly written by Bashagha, the Libyan politician declares that he wants his country to “stand with Britain against Russian aggression”.
“Today my country is facing one of its toughest battles yet; as Ukrainian troops battle Russia with British missiles, we in Libya are fighting the same fight,” the article says.
Bashagha, who describes himself as Libya’s interim prime minister, has now seemingly decided he wasn’t the author of the article, tweeting in Arabic: “I was surprised by an article attributed to me in the English newspaper the Times. I hope this grand and respected newspaper inspects accuracy to avoid being involved in publishing false articles.”
Sources at the Times told Middle East Eye they thought Bashagha’s social media accounts had been hacked, though there were no signs they had been compromised.
A spokesperson for the Times told MEE: “We stand by our publishing of this article and Fathi Bashagha’s staff have confirmed to us it is accurate.”
Bashagha’s own media team did not respond to MEE’s questions about the article or about whether his Twitter account had been hacked.
Bashagha served as interior minister in the Government of National Accord, an administration that Russia-backed general Khalifa Haftar failed to topple in a 2019-2020 war. Haftar’s forces included hundreds of Russian mercenaries from the Wagner Group, a private military contractor with close links to the Kremlin. Many Wagner fighters are believed to remain in Libya.
In the Times article, Bashagha – who since Haftar’s failed assault on Tripoli has grown closer to the general and his allies – appears to be unequivocal in his condemnation of Russian interference in Libya, though he has said nothing about it in Arabic on his current tour through Haftar-controlled parts of Libya.
“Since 2014, thousands of mercenaries from Wagner, a private military group close to Vladimir Putin, have been in my country, leaving a trail of destruction behind,” he writes in the Times.
“Putin’s involvement is something that I utterly condemn, but I must, and can, go further than that.”
‘Strategic partnership with Britain’
The article goes on to “remind Britain that Libya, too, is a front line in this fight with Russia”.
It advertises how Libya can form a “strategic partnership with Britain – one based on business, security and shared intelligence”.
This includes working to stop “the flows of illegal migrants crossing the Mediterranean”, as well as fighting Wagner Group mercenaries, tackling Moscow’s influence and using Libyan oil and gas to “ween the world off Russian oil”.
However, a day after publication Bashagha publicly declared that he is not its author and that it should not have been published in his name.
This is not the first time the former interior minister has used his Twitter account to indicate a change of mind.
In March, the Libyan parliament approved a government led by Bashagha to replace the interim adminstration of Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, who has vowed not to cede power. Following the vote, Bashagha gave a televised speech in which he did not mention the Russian war in Ukraine, which was dominating news cycles.
Bashagha went on to tweet his opposition to the war in Ukraine – in English.
The politician, who is from the western city of Misrata, has in the past worked with western lobbying groups and PR firms, including the Washington-based BGR Group, and has had several articles published under his name in English-language newspapers.
Now, the question of whether he really is the author of those articles is up in the air, and where Bashagha stands with Haftar.
“There’s two things that emerge here,” Emadeddin Badi, a senior analyst at Global Initiative, told MEE.
“First of all, there’s trouble in paradise in this alliance between Haftar and Bashagha and the Russians as a kind of middle man in Libya’s future. I think that’s going to be a problem for Bashagha and Haftar to reconcile on, among many other problems.
“The second is that Bashagha is clearly marketing different narratives depending on the audience he’s talking to. The tweet was clearly meant for a local audience and I’d say actually it was meant for Haftar’s people – to placate them.”
A Libyan source who regularly consults with Haftar told MEE in February that Bashagha had cut a deal with Haftar and his family. The publication of an anti-Russian broadside in an English newspaper is unlikely to have gone down well with Haftar or in Moscow.
“One thing is certain in the wake of this incident: the Russians are still very much present in Libya, to the point of scaring high-profile politicians,” Jalel Harchaoui, a researcher specialising in Libya, told MEE.
“You can’t just say anything about them, even if you say you are the prime minister. They have not pulled out of Libya and you can’t insult them there without consequences.”