Marine General Thomas Waldhauser, America’s top general in Africa, yesterday confirmed the mounting suspicions: Russian troops are on the ground in Libya and supporting the strongman Khalifa Haftar. Reuters:
“Well I think it is common knowledge, certainly in the open press, the Russians and their desire to influence the activities inside in Libya… the Russian and Haftar, I think that linkage is undeniable at this point in time,” Waldhauser told reporters at a news conference.
There has been growing evidence that Haftar is Moscow’s man, including recent reports that Russia was using Egyptian airbases as a staging ground to back his forces in the east. Waldhauser’s official comment is a significant on-the-record confirmation that Russia is up to new tricks in Libya.
Russia has several reasons to back Haftar: oil is part of the story, as is Putin’s desire to sabotage the UN-backed government put in place by the 2011 NATO intervention he so despised. But as we explained last month, those expecting Russia to get trapped in a messy quagmire should probably re-adjust their expectations:
Like in Syria, it would be a mistake to think that the Russians are playing for control of the entire country, or that they care if it is ever reconstituted to its previous borders. Having a reliable client presiding over a hefty share of the Libya’s oil riches might be worth some amount of intervention. And again, like in Syria, with a partner willing to do most of the fighting, the Russians could get what they want on the cheap, relatively speaking.
Russia’s game in Libya is increasingly coming into clear view.