On November 21, Flightradar website registered a very unusual flight. Boeing 767-224(ER) aircraft of Russian airline Utair took off from Vladivostok to Tripoli. The flight is unusual because Russian planes in Libya usually land on the territories controlled by the Libyan National Army of Khalifa Haftar.
Tripoli is controlled by militias loyal to the Government of National Accord (GNA) hostile to Haftar. Its relations with Moscow have deteriorated after GNA militias arrested two Russian citizens, Maxim Shugaley and Samer Sueifan in May 2019. The Russians have not yet been released.
However, in Libyan social networks reports emerged that a Russian plane flying from Vladivostok to Tripoli, allegedly carried the mercenaries of Russian Wagner Group, and that they will be subordinate to the head of the Interior Ministry of the GNA Fathi Bashagha (pictured). The Russian mercenaries are supposed to provide security for Bashagha, as power struggle is on the rise in Tripoli.
The Russian militants have already been seen in the streets of Tripoli, according to other reports. This information causes negative feelings in the country. In the West of Libya people are used to considering Russian mercenaries as enemies; they took part in Khalifa Haftar’s attack on Tripoli. In the east, where the HQ of LNA is situated, people don’t understand how the former allies could support Fathi Bashagha, which is considered to be connected with the radical Muslim Brotherhood movement.
Our sources in the GNA Interior Ministry confirm the arrival of Russians in Tripoli. According to them, Russian mercenaries are to secure a deal between the GNA and Russia, mediated by Turkey, to free Shugaley and Sueifan. Such a deal was previously reported by Bloomberg.
Also, according to sources, Fathi Bashagha may make new unusual arrangements in the very near future. The Libyan Interior Minister has recently been actively communicating with former rivals: he paid a visit to Egypt, and last week he visited France. Both Cairo and Paris had previously supported Khalifa Haftar in the Libyan conflict.
Recently, more and more groups in Tripoli are opposing Bashagha. He himself, however, hopes to get the post of Prime Minister. Fathi Bashagha had pinned his hopes on the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF), which began in Tunisia on November 9, but the UN initiative has become entangled in scandals, allegations of corruption and has not yet been able to produce a clear result. LPDF’s failure only exacerbated the political struggle in Libya, increasing mutual suspicions of leading politicians and warlords.
In this regard, it is highly likely that Fathi Bashagha could turn to former enemies for help, including for security and protection.