Up to 35 Russian mercenaries have been killed in Libya fighting for the forces of rogue Libyan warlord Khalifa Haftar, the independent Russian-language news website Meduza reported on Wednesday.
Meduza received information from several members of Russian private militias that between 10 and 35 Russian mercenaries had been killed fighting for Haftar.
Haftar, the head of the self-styled “Libyan National Army”, receives support from Egypt, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia in his fight against the internationally-recognized Libyan government based in Tripoli. Russia has also singalled its support for the warlord but has not formally intervened in the Libyan war.
The families of the dead mercenaries have not received any formal notifications of their deaths from the Russian defence ministry. Their bodies have not yet been returned to Russia, acccording to one of Meduza’s sources.
Another source said that Haftar had been very impressed by Russia’s 2015 intervention in the Syrian conflict, and that he had promised Russia contracts in the Libyan oil and railway sectors in return for military assistance.
Russia had initially been sceptical of Haftar’s offer but provided informal and secret assistance later on, according to the source.
Haftar visited Moscow in 2018, holding talks with Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoygu, as well as a businessman with ties to the Wanger security company.
Russian mercenaries began to receive offers to come to Libya to fight shortly afterwards. Photos of them in Libya began to be published on social media shortly afterwards.
More than 1000 people have been killed and hundreds of thousands more displaced since the beginning of Haftar’s offensive on the Libyan capital Tripoli, which is controlled by the UN-backed government of Prime Minister Fayez Sarraj in April 2019.