Deliveries of military equipment to the port of Tobruk

The delivery of military equipment and vehicles from Syria to Libya was the most visible aspect of the increased Russian involvement in Libya observed over the past few weeks. 

The port of Tartus in Syria was the point of departure for Russian military vessels used to deliver military equipment to Libya. This port has already been used in the past for Russian deliveries of wheat and military equipment, and as a departure point for Russian ships operating in the Mediterranean Sea.

Two Russian vessels were spotted in the port of Tartus on 02nd April 2024. The vessels, Ropucha class landing ship LSS Aleksandr Otrakovsky and Ivan Gren, were later spotted off the Cretan coastline on 06th April.

The Aleksandr Otrakovsky is a large landing vessel that redeployed from the North Sea to the Mediterranean in late 2023.

One of the two Russian military vessels was filmed by Libyan media in the port of Tobruk, confirming the Russian presence on April 08, 2024.

This latest delivery oft was reported by some sources as the fifth delivery of Russian equipment to Tobruk over the last 45 days. The equipment delivered includes vehicles and weapons, such as 2S12 Sani mortars or BTR and BM APCs.

Kremlin interests in Libya and North Africa 

Since the death of Prigozhin in August 2023, the Russian Ministry of Defense has relaunched discussions with Libya and Marshal Haftar. The Russian Defense Ministry delegation led by Yunus Bek Yevkurov has visited Libya four times since August 2022 and was seen by commentators as a major new boost for Russian engagement in the country.

Marshal Haftar was also invited to Moscow in September 2023 after being considered « an imperfect and outmatched military leader » by Russian private agents in Libya in 2020. It appears Russia has changed its mind and is here to stay and extend with a navy base on the Mediterranean Sea. 

For Jalel Harchaoui, the Kremlin’s objective in Libya is clear: “Libya offers ultra-valuable access to the Mediterranean, serves as a southern flank to pressure NATO and the EU, and enhances dialogue with other key Arab countries. Importantly, it also acts as a passageway into Sub-Saharan Africa, offering a strategic path into countries like Sudan, Niger, and beyond. Thus, Libya holds crucial strategic value for Russia, and the Haftar family’s cooperation allows Russia to secure these objectives while minimising costs. Said crudely, on a material and pecuniary level, the Haftar family rewards Moscow for doing exactly what Moscow wants to do anyway. In all cases, Russia has been in the process of becoming as strong as possible on Libyan soil, knowing that that strength will have several uses”.

Not only is Russia intensifying its military activities in the East of Libya but also its diplomatic activities in the West. Since 2023, Russia has aimed to reopen a consulate in Benghazi and an embassy in Tripoli.

The new ambassador, Aidar Aghanin, an Arabic speaker who was director of RT channel in Arabic and served in Jordan, divides his time between the two Libyan cities having established his headquarters at the Radisson hotel in Tripoli.

During the Africa Russia summit in July 2023, the government of Mohammed Yunus Al-Menfi (in charge of Tripoli) was received directly in a bilateral meeting with Vladimir Putin. On May 9 from Moscow while the Haftar clan visited the Russian government, 

Belqacem Haftar, one of Marshal’s sons, declared having met with a Russian diplomat to discuss the unification of the Libyan political factions and resolve the political and military crisis . Other Libyan officials from Tripoli are expected in Russia very soon.

But it’s not just about Libya. The Kremlin has placed seasoned personnel in other neighbouring countries such as Algeria.

On site, Russian interests are represented by Valerian Shuvaev, Arabic-speaking and French-speaking ambassador, who served as number 2 in Yemen, Iraq, Libya and Morocco.

In Morocco, it is Vladimir Baibakov, also Arabic and French-speaking, who was ambassador to Mauritania. Alexandre Zolotov has been Russian ambassador to Tunisia since 2022.

Arabic-speaking and French-speaking, he has been stationed in Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia and Oman. These ambassadors are figures from the Primakov school, a former senior executive of the KGB and Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs from 1996 to 1998.

According to a Western diplomatic source, these diplomats and Kremlin representatives are not there by chance: “It’s to be noted that most of the Russian ambassadors managing the Northern African region around Libya are seasoned diplomats with significant experience in the Middle-Eastern countries. Some are even francophones, showing a renewed strategic interest from Russia in this region”.

Another important figure in the Kremlin’s security spheres is in the region: General Serguey Surovikin, the former commander in charge of Russian military operations in Ukraine.

Dismissed from his position for his links with the Wagner group following the death of Evgeny Prigojzhin, he took the post of military representative in Algeria. According to a source who prefers to remain anonymous, Surovikin was regularly in Libya during his year of exile. According to unverified sources, he is currently returning to Russia to be called for more important functions.

With its feet in the Mediterranean waters, the Kremlin takes the lead in a corridor going from North Africa to the borders of the Sahel while reaching their Syrian base. Russia has become the new security partner of a region destabilised by terrorist violence, coups, civil war and illegal immigration.

Can we trust that Russia will effectively manage local instabilities and can we afford to delegate responsibility for security issues at the gates of Europe  to Russia?

Can we also imagine that Russia will not take advantage of the immigration lever (materially or in the information sphere) as we have seen them do on the border with Belarus?


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