The accusation that Russia sent combat aircraft to Libya “does not correspond to reality,” Andrey Krasov, first deputy chairman of the State Duma Defense Committee, told Interfax on Tuesday.
“Russia’s position is well known: we are in favor of ending the bloodshed in Libya, we urge all parties to the conflict to refrain from using weapons and sit at the negotiating table,” Krasov added.
Krasov was addressing the claims by AFRICOM earlier in the day, featuring a series of grainy photos of MiG and Sukhoi fighters and a claim by General Charles Townsend that they “watched as Russia flew fourth generation jet fighters to Libya – every step of the way.”
The AFRICOM press release that quoted Townsend, however, was far more cautious about the claim, saying instead that they “assessed” the planes were recently deployed to Libya in support of Wagner Group private military contractors, and are “likely” to provide close air support. Likewise, “it is assessed” that the planes came from Russia via Syria, where they were “repainted to camouflage their Russian origin.”
Townsend’s own follow-up to the “we watched” claim is likewise a qualification, as he says neither the Libyan National Army nor private companies “can arm, operate and sustain these fighters without state support – support they are getting from Russia.”
AFRICOM did not specify how allegedly repainting very distinctive planes would camouflage their origin, or offer any evidence for their assessments.
Fathi Bashagha, a minister in the Tripoli-based government of national accord (GNA) – which is fighting the LNA for control of Libya – claimed last week in an interview with Bloomberg that “at least six MiG 29s and two Sukhoi Su-24s” arrived in Libya from the Khmeimim air base in Syria, where the Russian expeditionary force is based.
Last month, unnamed AFRICOM officials angling for a return of US forces to Libya insinuated, through a friendly Washington reporter, that Russian presence there would be “more dangerous” to NATO than that of Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) terrorists. Though that quote made for an explosive headline, it actually belongs to the reporter himself.
“Russia is not interested in what is best for the Libyan people but are working to achieve their own strategic goals instead,” is yet another “assessment” from Tuesday’s statement by AFRICOM, which goes on to claim that “destabilizing actions” by Russia in Libya would make worse the “migration crisis affecting Europe.”
US insistence that Russia is destabilizing Libya is baffling, however, since it was the NATO regime-change operation in 2011 that overthrew the government of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi and turned the most prosperous African country into a chaotic wasteland fought over by warlords ever since.
Marshal Khalifa Haftar, who leads the LNA and is allegedly propped up by Wagner and Russia, famously defected to the US in the 1980s and lived near the CIA headquarters for decades before returning to Libya after 2011.
Russia and Turkey – a NATO member which has openly backed the GNA and sent regular troops to Tripoli earlier this year – have organized a series of negotiations between Haftar and the Tripoli government earlier this year, but the GNA refused to meet with the LNA leader directly.