Russia are set to imminently sign a military cooperation deal with Libyan military strongman Khalifa Haftar according to reports from Radio France International this week.
Following meetings between Haftar and a Russian military delegation in Tobruk last Wednesday, Moscow is preparing to send military experts to train forces loyal to Haftar – who call themseleves the Libyan National Army (LNA) – at a number of bases such as Tobruk and Benghazi in the east of the country, the French radio station reported, citing informed sources.
Additional training of pro-Haftar troops, RFI reported, will take place at sea aboard Russian military vessels.
Haftar previously visited Moscow in November and met with Russian Foreign Secretary Sergey Lavrov who has recently praised Libya’s military role in countering terrorism in the country.
At that time sources close to Haftar leaked information that the Libyan army chief was seeking to persuade Moscow to supply arms and military equipment through a third party in order to bypass a UN Security Council arms embargo on Libya. However, at that time Moscow abided with the UN Security Council ruling.
Libya has been mired by in-fighting since the 2011 revolution that overthrew dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
The country was split between two competing governments, while myriad rival militias also looked at carving up influence in the country.
The Tobruk government has received backing from neighbouring Egypt as well as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
But the Tripoli-based government has the backing of the UN with six western states recently renewing their support.
Haftar, once an ally of Gaddafi who studied in Russia and spent time in exile in the United States, has allied his forces to authorities in Tobruk.
He has been accused by opponents of committing war crimes and in one noticeable power play in September 2016 his forces seized control of most of Libya’s oil installations and for the last two years of battled Islamist groups including from the Islamic State group for control of the second city of Benghazi.