Russian President Vladimir Putin may seek to capitalize on the chaos currently gripping Libya by filling the power vacuum that the U.S.-led NATO alliance has failed to fill since the removal of dictator Moammar Gadhafi nearly six years ago, reports Stars and Stripes, citing analysts.
The report echoed recent assessments by U.S. military officials, noting that Moscow is trying to reestablish Russia as a superpower and extend its geopolitical sphere of influence by undermining the U.S. and other Western powers and capitalizing on the chaos in Libya.
“Even though there would be risks, Russia stands a lot to gain,” Christopher Chivvis, a security analyst with the Rand Corp, told Stars and Stripes. “(Moscow) would be free to shape the battlefield, much like it did in Syria with its support of Assad. Similar conditions exist in Libya.”
Putin’s relationship with a powerful Libyan warlord has been thriving, a development that the news outlet describes as a sign that the Russian leader “sees an opportunity in Libya’s chaos to sideline the West and catapult Moscow into the position of power broker on NATO’s southern flank.”
Stars and Stripes acknowledges that Russia’s intentions regarding its affiliation with Gen. Khalifa Haftar remain unclear.
Haftar, a secular strongman who controls much of eastern Libya, belongs to the opposition of the United Nations-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli.
High-ranking officials from both sides, including the GNA’s Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, have visited Russia in recent weeks.
In mid-March, U.S. Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, the top American commander in Africa, described Russia’s involvement in war-ravaged Libya as “very concerning,” noting that security in the war-devastated nation remains “very fractured.”
“Russia is trying to exert influence on the ultimate decision of who becomes, and what entity becomes, in charge of the government inside Libya,” Gen. Waldhauser told lawmakers. “They’re working to influence that decision.”
Russia has already deployed a small contingent of special operations forces to Egypt’s border with Libya.
Citing the analyst Chivvis, Stars and Stripes notes, “Should Russia align with Haftar to launch a formal intervention, it could give Moscow a foothold for setting up sophisticated air defense systems that could challenge allied access to the region in a crisis.”
“Since NATO’s 2011 intervention in Libya, which resulted in the toppling of Gadhafi, the country has disintegrated into a virtual failed state with a mix of militias, a weak government and terrorist groups such as the Islamic State [ISIS/ISIL] competing for territory,” it adds. “Even though Libya is located on the doorstep of southern Europe, NATO has shied away from sending ground troops to help restore order.”