In the past 24 hours, scattered reports have come in that Russia has deployed a small group of special forces backed by drones to an airbase in Egypt near the Libyan border.
Since the end of the Libyan Civil War, a series of constitutional crises has seen the country splinter anew. They are too long and complex to recount here, but essentially, there is are now three main factions vying for control:
- The UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) headed by PM Mustafa al-Serraj, who governs Tripoli from a naval base, and includes a medley of liberals, Islamists, and ethnic militias who alternate between cooperation and hostily to each other. It is supported by the Libyan navy and the honestly named Petroleum Facilities Guard, which controls many of the oil transit ports around Ras Lanuf. It is the UN-recognized government, and enjoys US, EU, Turkish, and Qatari support.
- The Council of Deputies (CoD), or House of Representatives, government based in Tobruk, which is dominated by General Khalifa Haftar, the commander of the Libyan National Army, and enjoys support from Egypt, Algeria, Russia, and the US.
- The Islamic State, which used to control Sirte, but has since been defeated and gone underground.
Due to Libya’s status as a funnel for African immigrants into Europe, as a significant oil producer, and as a hotbed for international jihadi terrorists, there are incentives on all sides to get it sorted out.
While the US joins the EU in officially backing the GNA, Haftar is a longtime CIA asset since he parted ways with Qaddafi in 1986, so it is warm towards him as well; especially now that the White House is occupied by Trump, who has long been skeptical of Obama/HRC’s misadventures in Libya. Russia also supports Haftar; he visited Moscow in November 2016, and video conferenced with Defense Minister Shoigu on the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov this January.
In line with this, there have been rumors that Russia has already started supplying Haftar with huge quantities of arms via Algeria to circumvent the UN arms embargo on non-GNA factions in Libya.
Back in early February, the Russian-Israeli nationalist journalist Avigdor Eskin, writing for Russian news agency RIA, speculated that under Trump, the US could come to an agreement with Russia and cooperate on the rebuilding of Libya. Interesting enough, the groundwork for this was laid under Michael Flynn under the auspices of the group of experts known as Jellyfish Inc., many of whom were promoted to positions of influence in the Trump administration and, despite Flynn’s quick defenestration, presumably still remain there.
The proposed plan allegedly calls for the creation of settlements of 20,000-50,000 on the Libyan coast centered on the creation of oil refineries and accompanying infrastructure. The idea is that the immigrants would remain bottled up there, working in the oil refineries for decent wages and provisioned with nice, “European-style” amenities, instead of moving onto Europe. Some of Europe’s surplus refugees could even be dumped back there. Jellyfish Inc. would attract investors. Left unsaid, General Haftar would, presumably, be the guy who “enforces” this arrangement.
This is, for now, just rumor, it is highly suspect that the idea would even work – oil refineries are not exactly labor intensive, and as observers of Europe’s immigrant experiment, we know that the sorts of migrants coming up there will be all but useless in a modern factory environment.
That said, there are less fanciful ways the involved parties can benefit. In exchange for its support in restoring central authority under Hafat in Libya, Russia may reacquire the weapons supply deals it enjoyed under Qaddafi; once the new regime is secure and flush with oil cash, perhaps even the $3 billion contract from 2008 for Russian Railways to build a railroad along Libya’s Mediterranean coast could be revived.
The ruling regimes in both Egypt and Algeria would appreciate the squashing of Islamist elements in their neighboring country. The US could benefit by putting the whole Libya imbroglio behind it, and continue to exert whatever influence it may still possess accruing from Haftar’s long vacation near Langley.
The EU, meanwhile – assuming it is not yet too consumed by internal crises – will have to negotiate its own deal on immigration. Ironically, most likely it will be very similar to the understanding Italy had with Qaddafi: Cash for keeping out the Africans.