Russian Aid to Libya: A Strategic Move Amid Derna Floods
Russian Aid Amid Derna Catastrophe
In the aftermath of the devastating Derna floods in Libya, the Russian government, led by Deputy Defence Minister Yunus bek Yevkurov, has stepped in to provide much-needed aid. This move is widely perceived as a strategic attempt to strengthen ties with Libyan military leader Khalifa Haftar and establish a significant presence in the oil-rich nation.
The floods claimed thousands of lives and led to the arrival of a Russian IL-76 military cargo aircraft in the vicinity of Benghazi, eastern Libya, an area controlled by Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA). The aircraft brought in logistical reinforcements and rescue search equipment, demonstrating Russia’s swift response to the disaster.
‘Africa Man’ and Russian Commitment to Haftar
Yevkurov, known as Moscow’s ‘Africa Man’, has been making regular visits to Africa, with notable trips to countries like Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger. His presence in Libya, particularly following the passing of Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of the Russian private military company Wagner, symbolizes Russia’s ongoing commitment to Haftar and his LNA.
Wagner played a significant role in supporting Haftar, particularly during his 2019 assault on Tripoli. The company secured oil wells and deployed fighters to aid Haftar’s forces. Following Prigozhin’s death, Yevkurov is expected to sustain and enhance Russia’s relationship with Africa.
Geostrategic Importance of Libya to Russia
Libya’s geostrategic importance to Russia is notable, given its Mediterranean coastline and desert land borders. The nation is divided between the UN-recognised government in the west and the Haftar-controlled territory in the east. Russia’s consistent support for Haftar signifies its intent to establish a significant presence in the region.
However, Haftar’s reputation for shifting alliances and collaborating with rival powers introduces a level of uncertainty to Russia’s plans. His actions following the Derna disaster have placed him at the center of a complex geopolitical landscape, where the victims of the floods could potentially become pawns in the power struggle.
Russia’s Naval Ambitions in Libya
Reports suggest that Russia is seeking docking rights for its warships in eastern Libya, specifically in the ports of Benghazi or Tobruk. This move aligns with Russia’s long-standing covert objective of securing a warm water port on the Mediterranean, thereby posing a potential threat to European and NATO security.
After NATO’s 2011 intervention in Libya, Russian President Vladimir Putin has used the situation in Libya to criticize NATO’s actions and position Russia as a more reliable ally. Putin aims to undermine democracy in Europe, potentially using Libya as a launchpad to send illegal migrants into southern Europe.
Mirroring Successes in Syria
Experts suggest that Russia’s attempts to gain naval access in Libya mirror its successes in Syria, where it has significantly increased the use of its naval facility in the port of Tartus. Such a presence in Libya could enhance Russia’s strategic positioning and resource extraction capabilities.
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