“Agenzia Nova” spoke about it with two experts: Jalel Harchaoui, specialist in Libya at the Royal United Services Institute, and Umberto Profazio, analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (Iiss).

Two military ships of the Russian Federation, escorted by two submarines, made an official stop at the Tobruk naval base in Cyrenaica, the eastern region of Libya, in recent hours.

The news was reported by the press office of the self-proclaimed Libyan National Army (NLA), led by the general Khalifa Haftar “In order to strengthen relations between the General Command of the Libyan National Army and the Russian Federation, a group of Russian warships, consisting of the missile cruiser Varyag and the frigate Marshal Shaposhnikov, paid a three-day visit to the base naval base in Tobruk, after a visit to the Arab Republic of Egypt,” we read in an ENL statement published on Facebook together with some images of the Udaloy class frigate and part of the Russian Pacific Fleet, and of the Varyag cruiser.

“The visit is part of concrete steps to strengthen cooperation between Russia and Libya, restore long-standing friendly relations and take advantage of Russian expertise to strengthen the sovereignty and independence of the Libyan state and its armed forces,” adds the party Libyan. Rumors have been circulating for some time about Russia’s intention to open a naval base in the Cyrenaica city. “Nova Agency” he talked about it with two experts: Jalel Harchaoui, Royal United Services Institute Libya specialist, e Umberto Profazio, analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (Iiss).

Harchaoui recalls that the Russian ambassador in Tripoli, Haider Aganin, recently told the Qatari-owned pan-Arab satellite television station “Al Jazeera” that no Libyan party has asked Russia to establish a military-naval base in Tobruk. “Aganin also said that the West wrongly accuses Moscow of military expansion in eastern Libya only to justify its own military presence in Libya and other countries. In essence, the Russian ambassador denies many things.

However, looking at the facts, in the month of April there were five significant deliveries of weapons, all made by the Russian Navy through the port of Tobruk. These deliveries happened and are indisputable,” says Harchaoui. The presence of the Russian Navy flotilla in Tobruk, this time not for the delivery of weapons, but for a formal visit, “strengthens the idea of ​​close collaboration between the Haftar coalition navy and the Russian Navy”, adds the expert .

Last May 31, the Russian Deputy Defense Minister, Junus-bek Yevkurov, traveled to Benghazi for his fifth visit to the country since last August. These missions consolidate rumors according to which Moscow is starting the formation of an “African Legion” in Libya intended to replace the forces of the Wagner mercenary group.

The structure of this legion is expected to be completed by the summer of 2024, preparing it to operate not only in Libya but also in Burkina Faso, Mali, Central African Republic and Niger. A spokesperson for the US State Department recently stated ad “Nova Agency” that the mercenaries of the Wagner group “have not only destabilized Libya”, but have also used the country as “a platform to destabilize the Sahel region and the African continent”.

According to the “All Eyes On Wagner” investigative project, in recent months Russia has transferred professional soldiers and fighters to Libya, where today there are at least 1.800 Russians located mainly in Cyrenaica and Fezzan, in the territories controlled by Haftar. The Russian embassy in Libya, for its part, defined this investigation as a “mixture of half-truths and lies” that would have been “manufactured by Western secret services”.

According to Harchaoui, the frequency of contacts between Moscow and Benghazi “means that the Russian armed forces are moving towards a scenario where they can operate freely through the port of Tobruk. If the Russian military continues to regularly conduct naval activities via Tobruk, over time it will eventually be reduced to a Russian naval base. Of course this is a slow process and will take months, but the trend is crystal clear.”

According to the website “ItaMilRadar”, specialized in monitoring the movements of military aircraft over Italy and the Mediterranean Sea, in recent months the port has already been used as a logistical base for Russian mercenary troops present in Libya. “The infrastructure of the port of Tobruk still leaves much to be desired, but this should not lead to the assumption that it will be long before a potential base can become operational,” adds the site, explaining that Moscow could “establish a naval base in the middle of Mediterranean, a few hundred miles from the bay of Suda and Sigonella, the two most important NATO bases in the area”.

The new US ambassador to Libya, Jennifer Gavito, Speaking to the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he recently warned about the Russian and Chinese presence in Libya. The diplomat highlighted the “profound successes” of China-linked companies in the information and communications technology sector in Libya, suggesting that US industry should provide a viable alternative to Beijing’s companies, so that Libya does not depends on “unreliable” partners for its national security.

Gavito then spoke of the Russian presence, which has recently integrated the Wagner forces in Libya into a broader military activity, and of the Kremlin’s efforts to create a more open and formal “defense relationship” with Libyan entities, with the aim to “destabilize the southern flank of NATO”.

According to Profazio, the courtesy visit of the Russian military ships “confirms the trend already visible since April, when there had already been an arrival by Russian military ships in Tobruk”. The Libyan port, explains the analyst to “Agenzia Nova”, “confirms itself as the main point of reference for this military collaboration, especially with regards to the navy between Russia and the ENL”, with General Khalifa Haftar “the main protagonist of this convergence between Moscow and Benghazi”.

According to the IISS expert, Moscow wants to show the West that its influence in Cyrenaica is becoming increasingly stronger. “There is currently no news regarding a new landing of mercenaries or paramilitary troops, as happened last April. It is a simple courtesy visit which nevertheless shows the strengthening of bilateral relations between these two parties”, adds Profazio. From a more strategic point of view, the analyst continues, “Tobruk continues to be particularly important for Russia, especially with regard to the southern flank of NATO and its Western partners”.

Libya, concludes the expert, is configured as a hub of Russian military projection in Africa and is becoming increasingly strategic to destabilize these countries both from the point of view of hard power, as a military presence, and of soft power, with policies , disinformation and flows of incorrect information.


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