Tripoli government seeks to disrupt French-Russian coordination on Libya

In anticipation of the talks focused on the situation in Libya held Friday by Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President Emmanuel Macron, the Islamist Tripoli government (GNA) launched a disinformation campaign focused mainly on the mercenaries of the Wagner Group, who had been out of the spotlight in the past days.

The Islamists returned to waiving the card of the Russian mercenaries on Friday, with the Libyan National Oil Corporation joining in the propaganda campaign exaggerating the Russian role in Libya, a campaign instigated by the U.S. State Department in cooperation with Turkey and the Islamists.

The Islamist-controlled National Oil Corporation said that “Russian mercenaries and other ones from other nationalities entered the Sharara oil field on Thursday,” and added that it “categorically rejects any attempts by any foreign countries to prevent the resumption of oil production.”

“A convoy of dozens of military vehicles entered the field on Thursday evening and met with representatives of the guards of the oil facilities,” said the statement. The National Oil Corporation has often attempted to present itself as a neutral party in the conflict despite its obvious bias towards the Islamists’ militias and its rejection of the army’s control of oil terminals and fields.

Through these accusations, the Islamists were trying to send messages to Europe stating that France is coordinating with Russia the two countries’ reactions to the situation in Libya, despite Russia’s control of the oil terminals and its halting oil exports. But this is in fact a clear attempt to mislead international public opinion and cover up the real reasons behind the cessation of Libyan oil exports. Oil exports were stopped following actions taken by Libyan tribes in protest against the Tripoli government’s use of “Libyan oil revenues” to finance Syrian mercenaries and fight the General Khalifa Haftar's eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA).

The oil terminals and oil fields in Libya are under the LNA’s control, and the army enjoys the backing of the local tribes in the south and the eastern region. The oil revenues, however, flow into the treasury of Libya’s Central Bank and the coffers of the Libyan National Oil Corporation which are controlled by the Islamists and a group of opportunists who benefit from the chaos.

Brigadier Ibrahim Beit al-Mal, one of the leaders of the Turkish-backed GNA militia, stated that “several Russian cargo planes have been spotted landing at the Qardabiya air base in Sirte, the last of which arrived on Thursday.”

“Some of these planes were carrying equipment and weapons while the others had fighters on board,” explained Beit al-Mal.

He also stated that “Russian mercenaries are in control of the Qardabiya base, and if the Libyan Air Force did not target the base, it was because of the presence of three air defence systems at the base and its surroundings.”

For months now, the U.S. State Department has been leading a campaign amplifying the Russian role in Libya, while ignoring the Turkish intervention that brought in Syrian fighters, including Islamic State (ISIS) and Al-Nusra Front elements.

To date, no evidence has emerged to confirm the U.S. allegations, while there are frequent reports of the presence of some Russian military officers and experts used by the LNA to operate and maintain weapon systems, as most weapons used by the army, including warplanes, are Russian-made. On the other hand, the number of Syrian mercenaries brought in by Ankara and the Islamists has exceeded 10,000 mercenaries, according to Western media reports.

Libyan political circles expect the Macron-Putin summit to result in an agreement to support the Egyptian initiative, which would block the path of any attempts to pressure Cairo in order to discourage it from directly interfering in Libya to deter the threat of having Turkey take control of Sirte.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi confirmed in a speech last Saturday that Egypt’s probable direct intervention in Libya has international legitimacy and has specific goals.

During his inspection tour of Egyptian military units in the western military zone on the border with Libya, Sisi declared that “any direct interference from the Egyptian state has now acquired international legitimacy, whether by virtue of the provision of the right to self-defence of the U.N. Charter, or based on the decision of the only elected authority in Libya, the Libyan Parliament.”

France and Russia support the Libyan army in its war on terror and against the GNA militias, in order to restore stability to the North African country that has been in total chaos since the toppling of the regime of the late Colonel Muammar Gadhafi.

Sources at the Elysée Palace said on Friday that President Macron “is confident in the ability to make progress” with Russia on several issues, including the Libyan crisis, following his video conference with Putin.

Regarding the Libyan file, the source said France and Russia share a “common interest in the stability of Libya and the unification of its institutions,” according to him.

The French-Russian rapprochement seems to dash Ankara’s hopes, and behind it those of certain quarters at the U.S. Department of State, to reach understandings with Moscow in Libya that would result in ending Russia’s support of the LNA and pave the way for Turkey and the United States to gain control of Sirte.

This article has been republished with permission from The Arab Weekly.
The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.