Warlord Khalifa Haftar began an assault on Tripoli, the capital of Libya, last April. He had seized control of vast swathes of the country with the apparent backing of Russia, the UAE, France and Saudi Arabia, so the offensive by the self-declared field marshal of the “Libyan National Army” raised fears that the city might fall. But five months later, the warlord’s forces are still fighting in the area and appear no closer to capturing Tripoli.
One group of people who will not be surprised by this turn of events is a team of shadowy Russian operatives working for an organization heavily implicated in the Kremlin’s adventures from Ukraine to the Central African Republic, Venezuela, Syria, Sudan—and, not least, Vladimir Putin’s covert efforts to influence the U.S. elections of 2016.
There have been numerous reports over the last two years of Russian support for Haftar, including claims made by British government officials in March this year about 300 mercenary fighters belonging to the so-called Wagner group, funded by Yevgeny Prigozhin, an ex-con turned caterer with the benefit of huge contracts from Putin. Prigozhin has become the center of a vast network of companies, including media, “troll factories,” oil and mining operations and private military contractors such as Wagner waging plausibly deniable interventions on behalf of Moscow in trouble spots all over the world.
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