A private Russian security firm said it sent agents to Eastern Libya to deliver arms to Khalifa Haftar confirming concerns in the West over a growing Russian influence in Libya, Reuters reported.
Oleg Krinitsyn, owner of private Russian firm RSB-group said in an interview with Reuters that a force of several dozen Russian armed private security agents operated in territory controlled by forces Loyal to Khalifa Haftar until last month.
He said the security contractors travelled to eastern Libya last year and they were pulled out in February having completed their mission.
He said their task was to remove mines from an industrial facility near the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi, in an area that Haftar’s forces had liberated from Islamist rebels.
Although Russia backs diplomatically Haftar against the internationally-recognized government, Russian officials denied providing Haftar with weapons in conformity with the UN arms embargo, which prohibits the import of weapons to Libya unless it is under the control of the UN-backed government.
Russia has previously used private military contractors to strengthen its foothold in conflict areas. In Syria, military contractors have fought alongside Syrian allies.
Russia, which has vehemently opposed NATO intervention that overthrew the decades-long Libyan dictator Gaddafi, sees new opportunities in the power vacuum in Libya where it tacitly endorses the all-powerful Khalifa Haftar.
Several media reports have been speculating about a potential secret deal between Hafter and the Kremlin according to which Russia will arm Haftar’s forces in his endeavor to gain control of the whole country in return for a Russian military base in Libya.
Haftar paid two visits to Moscow in the past half year in a bid to secure arms supply despite the UN arms embargo in place since 2011 prohibiting the sale of weapons to Libyan factions, to the exception of the government in Tripoli, which can import weapons upon the approval of the UN Security Council.
However, despite the UN arms embargo on Libya, media reports say that Haftar has been steadily receiving arms through the land borders with Egypt and through the sea from allies, including Egypt and the UAE.
Recently, Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) announced its intention to “liberate” Tripoli from what they deem as “Islamist” control. Such an action will signal a return to an outright civil war in Libya and the collapse of the Skhirate agreement and the UN-recognized government.
Libya has been split between two rival governments: the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) and the Tobruk-based Government that supports Hafter.
The Tripoli-based GNA, set up under the Skhirate agreement in December 2015, has however failed to impose its authority over the whole country.
The turmoil in Libya has taken a toll on its oil production, which is currently about 200,000 barrels per day (bpd), a fraction of the 1.6 million bpd the OPEC member was producing before the 2011 uprising that toppled Gaddafi.