by Alya Gorgi

Russia in force in Tripoli, Westerners are worried

La Russie en force à Tripoli, les occidentaux s’inquiètent

The strategic chessboard that Russia is erecting in North Africa is taking shape piece by piece, particularly with the strengthening of its presence in Libya.

Since 2019, the Russian presence in this country, mainly through paramilitary units of the Wagner group, has gradually intensified, but since the beginning of this year, this expansion has accelerated, disconcerting Westerners who feel powerless in the face of to this rise in power.

According to a note published by All Eyes on Wagner, an international collective investigating Russian networks in Africa, Russia has transferred soldiers and fighters to Libya over the past three months, accompanying this growing involvement with the delivery of equipment and military vehicles from Syria. With around 1,800 Russians now deployed in the country, this Russian build-up is confirmed by the arrival of Russian naval landing ships in Tobruk, loaded with weapons and military vehicles, apparently the fifth delivery in forty-five days.

Western diplomatic sources have corroborated this increase in Russian activity in Libya, a key state in North Africa, acting as a hub for sending equipment and troops to conflict-ridden neighboring countries such as Sudan, Niger and Mali, as well as potentially to Chad. The latter also attracts the attention of Russia, which is expanding its influence in the region.

As Russia engages more openly in Libya, including official visits by senior Russian officials to Benghazi, base of dissident Marshal Khalifa Haftar, it is strengthening its military and diplomatic presence in the country. This increased presence is raising concerns in Western chancelleries, faced with the possibility of a Russian naval base in Tobruk or Sirte, directly threatening NATO forces in the Mediterranean.

In addition, Moscow is also strengthening an already active diplomacy in Tripoli, despite Turkish influence in this city, reopening its embassy and increasing meetings with Libyan political actors from the different camps. By combining its military and diplomatic strategy, Russia seems to be establishing itself as a key player in resolving the Libyan crisis for which the West has provided no solution. Putin's strategy could strengthen Russia in its standoff with the European Union.