UPDATE: 5:32 a.m. EDT — Both Russian and Egyptian ministries of defense denied media reports Tuesday of “Russian special forces” units in Egypt.
“There are no Russian special forces in Sidi Barrani. Certain Western media have been stirring the public with such mud-slinging from anonymous sources for years,” Russian Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said, according to Sputnik.
In a bid to make its presence stronger in the oil-rich Libya in northern Africa, Russia appears to have deployed special forces to an airbase in western Egypt near the border with Libya in recent days, U.S., Egyptian and diplomatic sources said. The move has added to Washington’s concern about Moscow’s increasing role in Libya, Reuters reported Monday.
Pentagon’s top Africa official warned the Senate a few days back that Moscow was trying to “do a Syria” in the North African nation, according to Fox News. The report of Russian forces near the war-torn country raises questions about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s intentions in Libya and its United Nations-backed government. The international community, including the U.S., only recognize one government in Libya — the Government of National Accord (GNA) formed by a U.N. resolution.
Although Egyptian security sources said there was a 22-member Russian special forces unit, they did not divulge any details about the Russian forces’ mission. The security sources added that in early February Russia also used another Egyptian base farther east in Marsa Matrouh, Reuters reported.
Meanwhile, Russian leaders are also playing a role to resolve the political crisis in Libya. Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov reaffirmed Monday its continuing support for the efforts to help resolve the crisis situation in Libya. “The Russian side reaffirmed its strong support of the political process, based on the imperative to ensure the unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Libya,” the ministry said in statement, Sputnik International reported.
Many European Union countries fear that Putin might cripple their efforts to strengthen the fragile government in Tripoli and instead install a pro-Russian government there, according to Politico.
In fact, the U.S. might lose Libya to Russia if it does not develop a new strategy that prioritizes resolving the civil war in Libya. In an article for American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research’s Critical Threats, discussing the U.S. strategy toward Libya, analyst Emily Estelle wrote: “It is not too late for U.S. policy in Libya to succeed. ISIS is on its back foot, and many Libyan stakeholders are looking for paths to resolution. We must seize this opportunity to support a sustainable solution to the Libyan conflict so that recent success in Libya will stand the test of time. We otherwise risk watching Libya return to chaos and allowing ISIS and al Qaeda (and possibly Russia) to secure an enduring safe haven on Europe’s doorstep.”