U.S. Africa Command on Tuesday, May 26 released a series of photos showing that Russia deployed military fighter aircraft to Libya.
Russian military aircraft, including Mig-29 Fulcrum fighter jets and Sukhoi Su-24 Fencer combat aircraft, were recently deployed to Libya in order to support Russian state-sponsored private military contractors (PMCs) operating on the ground there. At least “six Mig-29 and two Su-24 aircraft escorted by two Russian Air Force Su-35s” have arrived in Libya.
The presence of “Russian Air Force Su-35” is particularly surprising, considered that Russia does not participate (officially) in the conflict in Libya.
The Russian fighter aircraft arrived in Libya, from an airbase in Russia, after transiting Syria where it is assessed they were repainted to camouflage their Russian origin. U.S. Africa Command assesses that Moscow recently deployed military fighter aircraft to Libya in order to support Russian state-sponsored PMCs operating on the ground there.
“The world heard Mr. Haftar declare he was about to unleash a new air campaign. That will be Russian mercenary pilots flying Russian-supplied aircraft to bomb Libyans,” said U.S. Army Gen. Stephen Townsend, commander, U.S. Africa Command.
Russian military aircraft are likely to provide close air support and offensive fires for the Wagner Group PMC that is supporting the Libyan National Army’s (LNA) fight against the internationally recognized Government of National Accord. The Russian fighter aircraft arrived in Libya, from an airbase in Russia, after transiting Syria where it is assessed they were repainted to camouflage their Russian origin.
“Russia is clearly trying to tip the scales in its favor in Libya. Just like I saw them doing in Syria, they are expanding their military footprint in Africa using government-supported mercenary groups like Wagner,” said U.S. Army Gen. Stephen Townsend, commander, U.S. Africa Command. “For too long, Russia has denied the full extent of its involvement in the ongoing Libyan conflict. Well, there is no denying it now. We watched as Russia flew fourth generation jet fighters to Libya — every step of the way. Neither the LNA nor private military companies can arm, operate and sustain these fighters without state support — support they are getting from Russia.”
Russia has employed state-sponsored Wagner in Libya to conceal its direct role and to afford Moscow plausible deniability of its malign actions. U.S. Africa Command assesses Moscow’s military actions have prolonged the Libyan conflict and exacerbated casualties and human suffering on both sides.
“The world heard Mr. Haftar declare he was about to unleash a new air campaign. That will be Russian mercenary pilots flying Russian-supplied aircraft to bomb Libyans,” Townsend said.
U.S. Africa Command assesses that Russia is not interested in what is best for the Libyan people but are working to achieve their own strategic goals instead.
“If Russia seizes basing on Libya’s coast, the next logical step is they deploy permanent long-range anti-access area denial (A2AD) capabilities,” said U.S. Air Force Gen. Jeff Harrigian, commander, U.S. Air Forces in Europe-Air Forces Africa. “If that day comes, it will create very real security concerns on Europe’s southern flank.”
Russia’s destabilizing actions in Libya will also exacerbate the regional instability that has driven the migration crisis affecting Europe.