Tuesday

22nd Jan 2019

EU urges Russia's man to give back Libya ports

  • Gaddafi-era oil exports were 1.4 million barrels a day, but now stand below 700,000 (Photo: Antony Stanley)

EU states and the US have urged a Russia-backed Libyan warlord to hand back oil ports, amid warnings that Russia was trying to do in Libya what it did in Syria.

The British, French, Italian, and US ambassadors to Libya said oil facilities “belong to the Libyan people and must remain under the exclusive control” of central authorities.

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  • Russian senator: "Was it intelligent to bring down Gaddafi?" (Photo: Martin Beek)

Their joint statement, on Tuesday (14 March), also voiced “strong concern regarding violence in the oil crescent” and called for “an end to hostilities”.

They spoke after Khalifa Haftar, a Russia-backed warlord, said on Facebook that he had captured the ports of Ras Lanuf and al-Sidra, two of Libya’s main oil terminals.

His assault included 1,300 ground troops and air strikes, the Libyan military said.

The EU and US are helping the UN-recognised Libyan government, the Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli, to extend its control over the country.

The EU is also working with the GNA to stop migrants after 181,000 people came via Libya to claim asylum in Europe last year.

Haftar, whose so-called Libyan National Army (LNA) controls eastern Libya, has received funding, military training, and diplomatic support from Russia.

Agila Saleh, Haftar’s political ally, told Ria Novosti, a Russian state news agency, on Tuesday: “They [Russia] promised to help us in the fight against terrorism.”

“We asked the Russian government to help us with training the soldiers in our armed forces and the repair of military equipment by Russian specialists”, he said.

Haftar in January toured a Russian warship and spoke to Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu.

He met Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow in November.

Thomas Waldhauser, a US general in charge of its Africa operations, told a Senate hearing last week that Russia posed a threat to Western interests in Libya.

Asked if Russia was trying to do in Libya what it did in Syria, where it has built up a naval base, the general said: “Yes, that's a good way to characterise it”.

He said Russia's support for Haftar was designed to “influence” Libya’s future.

Russian troops

The Reuters news agency on Tuesday reported that Russia had deployed a 22-man special forces unit at a base in Egypt next to Libya’s eastern border.

Russia and Egypt denied the report, however.

Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, said “we don’t have that information”.

An Egyptian spokesman said: “There is no foreign soldier ... on Egyptian soil.”

Russian MPs branded the Reuters report a “hoax”, while Alexey Pushkov, a Russian senator, trolled the EU on Twitter.

“In 2016, 180,000 immigrants crossed to the EU from N.Africa, mainly Libya. Was it intelligent to bring down Gaddafi to obtain such a result?”, he said, referring to Western air strikes against Muammar Gaddafi, the late Libyan dictator, six years ago.

The US last year also conducted air strikes in Libya in support of the GNA.

Waldhauser told the Senate that these could “serve as a model for future operations in the region”.

“The instability in Libya and north Africa may be the most significant, near-term threat to US and allies’ interests on the continent,” he said.

He said Libya fighting risked “spilling into Tunisia and Egypt and the broader Maghreb, allowing the movement of foreign fighters, [and] enabling the flow of migrants out of Libya to Europe”.

’If I may be so blunt’

EU foreign relations chief Federica Mogherini said on Tuesday that she “welcomed” Russia’s new effort to broker a ceasefire in Syria.

But she pointed to the brutality of its bombing campaign there, which the UN said constituted war crimes.

Europe was “a humanitarian partner [for Syria] that has helped, not bombed, the country, if I may be so blunt”, she said in the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

She said her work with Turkey on Syria was “constructive” despite the dispute over Turkish rallies in the EU.

She also unveiled a European Commission plan on how to rebuild Syria if the war ended.

The blueprint covered a new constitution, security sector reform, refugee returns, and job creation.

She said the Syrian war, which began six years ago in March, had claimed 320,000 lives and that it was claiming new “victims every day”.

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