Is Russia trying to take back over Libya from NATO, Radicals?

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Reuters is reporting that some 22 Russian special operations forces have set up a base in Western Egypt near the Libyan border in preparation for an intervention in Libya.

Other recent reports have suggested that Russian mercenaries have been active in eastern Libya. The Russian government denied the Reuters report and denied any knowledge of a Russian unit operating in Libya. Likewise the Egyptian government denied that any foreign forces were based on its soil.

The warlord of eastern Libya is Khalifa Hifter, whose military forces serve one of Libya’s two parliaments, the House of Representatives in Tobruk. Hifter’s forces expelled fundamentalist religious militias from Benghazi, which his forces now control. His men had asserted control of the “oil triangle,” including Ras Lanuf. Obviously, whoever controls Libya’s oil would reap a massive windfall, making them even more powerful over time.

But Hifter’s forces in the oil triangle have recently been expelled by the very same radical fundamentalist militias, prominently al-Qaeda and the Benghazi Defense Brigades, that he had kicked out of Benghazi. And after they build up their coffers by smuggling some petroleum out, they talk about marching on Benghazi and taking it from Hifter, making it a base for Muslim radicalism.

It is these reverses in the oil triangle for Hifter’s forces and the threat that radicals could attack Benghazi that likely alarmed the Russian military enough to cause them to intervene. Obviously, 22 commandos are not very many, but maybe they will be spotters for the air force.

Washington is worried that Russia plans to repeat its Syrian tactics in Libya and that it wants to recover Libya as a Russian sphere of influence, as it had been under deposed dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

Despite Russian denials, it is plausible that Russian forces are trying to intervene covertly in Libya. Any such intervention appears for the moment to be targeted and small, unlike the situation in Syria.

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Related video:

VOA from last month: “Italy Seeks Russia’s Help in Stabilizing Libya”

10 Responses

  1. It seems likely Russia will move into the Libyan mess since the problems in Syria are similar, similar at least in the sense that they are largely the product of the same historical and current Western imperial shenanigans. That area is a long way from the US and separated from it culturally, linguistically, morally, economically, socially, and in almost every conceivable way ordinary people seek to pursue their ordinary lives. There can be no morally viable reason for the US/West to have left such a swathe of devastation through the area unless one finds it in militarily establishing and maintaining subservient despotic rulers and ‘spheres of influence’ to guarantee access to natural resources. Establishing such arrangements post WWII was one thing, but maintaining them against popular demands arising from increasing literacy and the attendant urge to evolve socio-politically has proved too much; it completely defeated Obama whose efforts simply made matters worse. Socio-political evolution is never without bloody upheaval but it is able to resolve itself within national boundaries if left to do so. What we face now is a godawful mess which cries out for coherent stabilising intervention; enter Russia, stage right. What needs to be understood, however, is that whatever motives Russia may have are not the same as US motives which are similar in spirit and the absolute conviction of rightness, if not in content, to the evangelical motives of Philip II in 16th century Mexico, or even perhaps the convictions fueling USSR motives in the communist era. While Russia may act defensive/reactionary, as in Ukraine, they do not appear blatantly aggressive despite considerable orchestrated effort to make them look so. They can also be viewed as getting somewhere. As far as this particular area is concerned, Russia has reins on the Syrian regime and has even got the conflicting sides to one table, they are balancing the variable moods and interests of Turkey, and they have meaningful influence in Riyadh and Tel Aviv. If their stabilisation does prove to work in Syria, why not in Libya.

  2. America while looked upon as a troubling evil instigator is counterbalanced by a Russia which appears to be a problem solver. I’m biting at the bit to not go into a bad Hillary rant, but I can’t go without reminding any of you of how our crushing Libya was her idea. In the end America has no one other to blame than itself, if things continue not to work out our way.

    Here’s a thought, try some good old fashioned diplomacy to iron out the world’s problems. Cut the military budget by no less than 60%, and up the 1 trillion dollar infrastructure renewal plan to the 3 trillion dollars we will need to just come up to par with what’s needed to be done, and quit with this constant warring exercise that has drained our once financially superior nation down to dirt.

    • Russia seen as a problem solver? By whom? Only by Assad, it seems to me. Your anti-Clintonism has blinded you. This whole article seems like much ado about nothing. This is one disputed report about 22 commandos. Calm down. The aid to the Libyan rebels was a NATO operation and the non-sectarians would be looking more toward NATO for further help rather than Russia. Logistically, NATO is also a much better source for aid to the non-sectarian forces.

  3. Perhaps not win back, so much as increase their ring of SAMs around the med in a large scale denial operation for US carrier launched aviation.

  4. “Any such intervention appears for the moment to be targeted and small, unlike the situation in Syria.”

    What could possibly go wrong with that?

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