Under new general, Russia’s Wagner makes deeper incursions into Libya | Political news

by MMC
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While much of the world’s gaze is fixed on the carnage unfolding in Gaza, Russian President Vladimir Putin continues to expand his country’s reach in Africa.

Russia, in the form of private military contractor (PMC) Wagner, has had an increasing presence in Libya since at least 2018, when the group first reportedly trained troops under renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar , leader of the Libyan National Army. , forces belonging to the east of the country’s two parliaments.

But after the death of Wagner founder and former Putin ally Yevgeny Prigozhin following his failed coup in Russia last year, the fate of paramilitary forces in Libya and Africa seemed uncertain.

Russia operates several PMCs. However, none appear to be as close to the Kremlin or to have been deployed as widely as the one founded by Prigozhin. At little cost to the Kremlin, Wagner won Financial, military and political influence of Russia across vast expanses of Libya and Africa.

Given the stakes, the Kremlin was unlikely to disband Wagner, despite his active rebellion last year. Instead, after Prigozhin’s long-awaited disappearance, his business and military interests were divided among different Russian intelligence services, according to a report by the The Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) this week published claims.

Like other PMCs, like that of the United States Constellis (formerly Blackwater), Wagner allowed his government to operate in foreign conflicts with complete independence: projecting power while maintaining a certain degree of deniability. This distance also allows PMCs to operate outside the typical confines of state warfare, engaging in campaigns of terror and disinformation in ways that conventional forces cannot.

Command of Wagner’s presence abroad was entrusted to Russian military intelligence (GRU), more precisely to General Andrei Averyanov. Through a series of intermediary PMCs like Convoy, established in Russian-occupied Crimea in 2022, and Redut, active in Ukraine but created in 2008 to protect Russian business interests, maintaining legal denial, Wagner’s Ukrainian operation is renamed the Volunteer Corps, with other operations becoming the Expeditionary Force.

That its ambition remained intact was demonstrated by its initial directive to build a fighting force across Africa of some 40,000 contractors – since reduced to 20,000 but far larger than its current footprint.

We can perhaps get a sense of General Averyanov’s intentions by examining his past command of Unit 29155, the Russian military intelligence wing allegedly responsible for overseeing foreign assassinations and destabilizing European countries.

African dreams

Africa, one of the continents richest in minerals and energy, is experiencing a “youth boom” that risks changing global demographics.

In Africa, Libya has the largest oil reserves and gold deposits, estimated among the top 50 in the world. In addition, its geographical location, connecting Niger, Chad and Sudan to North Africa and Europe, gives it vital strategic importance.

Averyanov is already very busy, traveling to meet Marshal Haftar in September last yearfollowed by trips to Mali, Burkina Faso, the Central African Republic (CAR) and Niger.

In all cases, the offering was largely the same: resources for security.

Only in Libya has this section been broken. Russia’s lucrative oil extraction plants operate under the auspices of the other internationally recognized Libyan government in Tripoli, Haftar and his allies, claimed by the US Department of Defense to include the United Arab Emirates, would have to pay for the deployment of the expeditionary force themselves.

“Haftar needs Wagner,” said Tarek Megerisi, a senior fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, using the group’s better-known name. “Plus, while he hosts them in Libya, (Wagner) can use his position to support operations in Syria, Sudan and elsewhere.

“It’s a network,” he continued, citing news reports. “It’s not just about military support. They use their position in eastern Libya to transport Captagon (illegal narcotic) from Syria, move gold to evade sanctions, as well as assist in the smuggling of migrants from southern Africa and as far away as Bangladesh.

“Libya is an extremely profitable region for Wagner,” he said.


Current estimates put the expeditionary force with some 800 contractors deployed in Libya, with another 4,600 scattered across sub-Saharan Africa. In addition to its fighters, the expeditionary force maintains three air bases – one in the Sirte oil basin, one in al-Jufra in the interior and one in Brak al-Shati – which analysts say allows both groups (Haftar’s Libyan National Army and PMC) to transport goods between allies in Sudan and other sub-Saharan countries.

In addition to its presence on the ground, talks are underway giving Russian warships the right to dock at the port of Tobruk in exchange for air defense systems and training for LNA pilots.

“The central and eastern Mediterranean is an extremely important area for Europe and, by extension, for NATO,” said Ivan Klyszcz, an authority on Russian foreign policy at the International Defense and Security Center in Tallinn. “Russia already has a Mediterranean port in Tartous in Syria, a port in Tobruk would strengthen this presence and could potentially put it in competition with Europe, in particular the British, who maintain a significant naval presence in Cyprus. »

The possibility that the expeditionary force could increase its strength to 20,000 personnel, mentioned in the RUSI report and widely discussed by military bloggers, already appears to be in sight.

“It doesn’t seem unfeasible, considering where they are now,” said RUSI’s Jalel Harchaoui. “After all, we are not talking about purely Russian recruitment, but about continuous recruitment across Africa,” he said, recalling The transplantation of Wagner by fighters from Syria to Libya in 2020.

“Eventually, we could see a PMC where local troops from one African state can be deployed to another, where they are free to operate under whatever rules they deem appropriate. For example, in one state it might simply be ensuring the security of a government leader or facility. In others, they may resort to rape, torture and landmines.

“The economic model allows them to accomplish all of this, to build alliances … at little cost to what is, ultimately, Russia’s relatively small economy,” he said.

End of Game

However, although he is an important player, Wagner is far from alone on a changing and sometimes crowded Libyan battlefield. In addition to the militias allied to Tripoli, Turkish forces joined forces with local commanders to counter and repel the armed forces supported by Wagner. Haftarwhen he attempted to take and hold the capital in 2020 and break the political deadlock in his favor.

Moreover, given that Russia’s massive investments in Libyan energy are protected and governed by the Turks’ allies in Tripoli, there is no guarantee that Moscow’s alliance with Haftar will not also fall victim to the cold pragmatism that has been constant amid the chaos in Libya since its revolution. .

“There is no suggestion that Russia is committed to Haftar,” Klyszcz continued. “Haftar is important because of where he is, not who he is. It’s as much a marriage of convenience as anything else,” he said.

“Same with Turkey. There is no indication that the PMC cannot cooperate with Turkey, as they have done in other parts of the world.

“You have to remember that Russia is engaged in a global strategy with regional implications,” Klszcz said. “Putin’s intention is to create a multipolar world, in which India and China would all exercise their power, rather than the West as is the case now,” he said.

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