The United Kingdom and the United States on Tuesday urged Russia to stop sending mercenaries to the conflict in Libya, after a recent United Nations report confirmed the presence of Russian and Syrian fighters in the country.
Russia dismissed the demands at a Security Council videoconference, however, denying again that Moscow has any role in the presence of Russian fighters in Libya, and calling the UN report unreliable.
“We remain particularly concerned by further reports that external parties continue to provide material, equipment, [and] mercenaries,” said Jonathan Allen, the UK’s deputy permanent representative to the United Nations.
He pointed in particular to a private Russian security group, the Wagner Group, which is seen as being close to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“Wagner Group activities continue to exacerbate the conflict and prolong the suffering of the Libyan people,” Allen said.
He also invoked the UN arms embargo on Libya that has been in place since 2011, adding: “I want to urge all Security Council members to abide by the resolutions of this council, which they themselves have voted for.”
United States ambassador to the UN Kelly Craft said “all actors involved in the conflict in Libya must immediately suspend military operations”.
“They must halt the ongoing transfer of foreign military equipment and personnel to Libya, including as the United Kingdom mentioned, Wagner Group mercenaries,” she continued.
Allen and Craft’s Russian counterpart Vassily Nebenzia dismissed the claims as “speculation”.
“For the most part, the report is based on unverified or clearly fabricated data and is aimed at discrediting Russia’s policy in Libya,” Nebenzia said.
“Many of the data – especially regarding Russian citizens mentioned in the report – is simply unfounded. There are no Russian servicemen in Libya.”
The confidential UN report comes from UN experts monitoring the arms embargo. It confirmed mercenaries from the Wagner Group are in Libya, and revealed the presence of Syrian fighters from Damascus supporting renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar.
Haftar, who controls swaths of eastern Libya, launched an offensive in April last year against the capital Tripoli, seat of the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA).
The document also confirms that Syrian rebels are fighting in Libya in support of the GNA, backed by Turkey since late 2019.
The acting UN envoy to Libya, Stephanie Williams told the Security Council via a video briefing on Tuesday that the UN continues to “witness an alarming military build-up as a result of the uninterrupted dispatch by the foreign backers of increasingly sophisticated and lethal weapons, not to mention the recruitment of more mercenaries to both sides of the conflict”.
‘Firm and clear’
A main Haftar backer, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) said on Tuesday that it believes the only acceptable path forward in the Libyan crisis involves “an immediate, comprehensive ceasefire and a return to the political process”, according to a statement from Anwar Gargash, the UAE’s minister of state for foreign affairs.
“The UAE’s position on the Libyan crisis has been firm and clear & shared by the majority of the international community,” Gargash said on Twitter.
The UAE, along with Egypt, has supported Haftar. Turkey has accused the UAE of “bringing chaos” to the region through its interventions in Libya and Yemen.
Libya, a major oil-producing state, descended into chaos after the NATO-backed overthrow of leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. Since 2014, Libya has been split, with the internationally recognised government controlling the capital Tripoli and the northwest, while Haftar in Benghazi rules the east.
Haftar launched an offensive a year ago to grab Tripoli. He is supported by the UAE, Egypt and Russia, while the government is backed by Turkey. Libya has been under a UN arms embargo since 2011.
“The only conclusion that we can draw is that this war will intensify, broaden and deepen,” Williams said.
The UN envoy said the escalation will have “devastating consequences for the Libyan people” who are “getting lost in the mix, their voices crowded out”.
“We must not let Libya slip away. This council can ensure the collective security it is mandated to maintain by applying consistent and credible pressure on those regional and international actors that are fuelling the conflict.”
Russian private military contractor Wagner Group has up to 1,200 people deployed in Libya to strengthen Haftar’s forces, according to a UN report.