NOC expresses deep concern at ‘‘Russian mercenary’’ presence at Sharara oilfield
By Sami Zaptia.
London, 27 June 2020:
Libya’s state National Oil Corporation (NOC) yesterday expressed its deep concern at ‘‘the presence of Russian and other foreign mercenaries inside Sharara oilfield’’.
Sharara has been forcibly shut down by Khalifa Hafter aligned forces/tribes for most of the time since January this year. Libya’s main oil production fields (producing two-thirds of its oil) in the eastern crescent have also been shut down since January – notably, just before the Berlin Conference on Libya.
The NOC yesterday reported that the oilfields have now been shutdown for 160 losing the Libyan state an estimated US$ 6 bn of potential revenue.
The NOC’s concern about the presence of foreign mercenaries was expressed after it reported ‘‘a convoy of vehicles entered the (Sharara) field on the evening of Thursday June 25, 2020 and met with representatives of the Petroleum Facilities Guard (PFG)’’, it revealed. The NOC did not mention them by name, but the ”Russian mercenaries” it was referring to are Wagner forces.
The NOC reported its chairman, Mustafa Sanalla, saying that “Libya’s oil is for the Libyan people, and I completely reject attempts by foreign countries to prevent the resumption of oil production. It is noteworthy that many countries are themselves benefitting from the absence of Libyan oil from global markets. Some of them cynically express their public regret for Libya’s continued inability to produce oil while all the time working in the background to support blockading forces’’, he noted.
Sanalla added that “We do not need Russian and other foreign mercenaries in Libyan oilfields whose goal is to prevent oil production. We need patriotic, professional, and independent security forces who will facilitate the resumption of oil production for the benefit of all the Libyan people, with revenues allocated fairly and transparently across the whole of Libya.
While foreign mercenaries continue to be paid vast sums of money to prevent the NOC from carrying out its essential duties, the rest of the Libyan population suffers, not just through the absence of oil revenues but also through the loss to the nation of the disastrous decay of our oil infrastructure through corrosion and the inability of NOC staff to carry out essential maintenance,” Sanalla concluded.
The Wagner factor
It will be recalled that the Khalifa Hafter-led Libyan National Army (LNA) and his aligned Libyan forces have purportedly been aided by various mercenaries, including, from Sudan, Chad as well as Russian Wagner mercenaries.
The US refers to Wagner as ‘‘Russian state-sponsored private military contractors (PMCs)’’. In May this year, the US’s AFRICOM reported that ‘‘Russia has employed state-sponsored Wagner in Libya to conceal its direct role and to afford it plausible deniability of its malign actions and its military actions have prolonged the Libyan conflict and exacerbated casualties and human suffering on both sides’’.
During the withdrawal of Hafter’s forces from various parts of western Libya this May, video footage of purportedly Wagner forces – estimated at 1,500 by the city’s Mayor – making a hasty exit from Bani Walid airport – were widely circulating on social media.
At the time, Tripoli claimed that at least 15 planes landed in the city to evacuate them. In June, the US estimated that there were about 2,000 Wagner PMC’s in Libya.
At a U.S Department of State Special Briefing on Libya (and Iraq) held in Washington DC on 11 June, David Schenker, Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs, said the US was ‘‘particularly concerned about the continued influx of Russian military equipment, weapons, and Russian Wagner mercenaries, whose presence led to the significant Turkish intervention now underway.
We see the continued interference from external actors as a challenge to U.S. interests and regional stability in the Eastern Med, but also as a tragedy for the Libyan people. Libyans want peace and an end to foreign intervention. They are alarmed by this level of foreign involvement in their affairs.
Now is the time for Libyans on all sides to act so neither Russia nor any other country can interfere in Libya.’’, Schenker had said.
Wagner were also cited in a Human Rights Watch report in May this year on landmines and IED’s in areas previously controlled by Hafter’s forces in southern Tripoli.
The report said ‘‘Tripoli-aligned forces shared photographs on Twitter on May 29 showing four types of antipersonnel landmines manufactured in the Soviet Union or Russia and claiming they were “laid by the Wagner mercenaries,” a Kremlin-linked private military company that supports the LNA in the Ain Zara, Al-Khilla, Salahuddin, Sidra, and Wadi al-Rabi districts of Tripoli.
After a telephone call between Faiez Serraj, the internationally recognized prime minister of Libya with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg in May, the Tripoli government reported that Stoltenberg expressed NATO’s concern about the presence of Russian mercenaries from the Wagner Russian security company fighting with Hafter, and stressed the need to apply the UN Libya arms ban on the arrival of arms by land and air and not merely by sea.