By Sami Zaptia.
London, 21 June 2020:
Russia has denied US claims that it has new aircraft active in Libyan airspace. The denial came in the form of a short tweet by the Russian embassy in Greece last Thursday (18 June) quoting Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov. The tweet read:
‘‘Deliberate falsifications ‘ve been made regarding military equipment. Equipment delivered to Libya long ago is presented as recent Russian deliveries. Reports based on info from unreliable sources interested in supporting Hafter’s adversaries’’
The tweet by the Russian embassy in Greece was in turn prompted by a tweet by US Ambassador to Greece. His tweet quoted AFRICOM’s statement with satellite images alleging the existence of new Russian fighter jets in Libya’s Jufra airbase.
It will be recalled that AFRICOM had claimed in its statement that Russian aircraft delivered to Libya in late May are now being actively flown in Libya.
It said that these Russian aircraft are being used to support private military companies (PMCs) sponsored by the Russian government. U.S. Africa Command (USAFRICOM) has photographic evidence of a Russian aircraft taking off from al-Jufra, Libya. A MiG-29 was also photographed operating in the vicinity of the city of Sirte, Libya.
“Russia’s sustained involvement in Libya increases the violence and delays a political solution,” said U.S. Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Bradford Gering, USAFRICOM director of operations. “Russia continues to push for a strategic foothold on NATO’s southern flank and this is at the expense of innocent Libyan lives.”
In late May, USAFRICOM had reported that at least 14 MiG-29s and several Su-24s were flown from Russia to Syria, where their Russian markings were painted over to camouflage their Russian origin. These aircraft were then flown into Libya in direct violation of the United Nations arms embargo.
Jufra airbase, it will be recalled, is under the control of the retreating forces of Khalifa Hafter. Having been pushed out of the outskirts of Tripoli, Tarhuna, Witya airbase and all western Libya, Hafter’s forces are holding a line at Sirte – east of Misrata.
Forces and equipment are building up on both sides for an expected attack. Russia and Egypt, supporting Hafter, are attempting to persuade Libya’s internationally recognized government in Tripoli and their backers Turkey to accept a ceasefire and the military status quo at Sirte.
Tripoli, emboldened by its recent military advances, is refusing the military status quo and insisting on retaking Sirte, Jufra airbase – and more importantly – the eastern oil crescent that holds three-quarters of Libya’s oil production.
The exchange by Russia and the US over events in Libya evidences the extent to which the purportedly internal Libyan conflict has been internationalized into a proxy war.
There is new evidence of Russian aircraft active in Libyan airspace: AFRICOM