General Khalifa Belqasim Haftar flew to Russia yesterday to make a deal with Moscow. Haftar is a Libyan strongman from the army of the late Muammar Gaddafi.
For his part the General is seeking Russian arms and military support for his forces. In return, Moscow may ask for a military base in the north African nation. Why?
DEBKAfile, an Israel intelligence news service, broke this story today, Monday, 28 November.
As the General is being hosted by the Kremlin, DEBKAfile's military and intelligence sources report that Russian President Vladimir Putin is beginning "to envision a second Mediterranean base on the coast of Benghazi, twin to the Khmeimim [base] in Syria’s Latakia."
The Libyan base would provide a port for Russian ships and aircraft. If established, it will be 435 miles (700 kilometers) from Europe.
Haftar is a citizen of the United States. His title today is Supreme Commander of the Libyan Army. Although he is the strongman of his country, he has a problem that is beyond his ability. Libya today is "riddled with hundreds of militias vying for control," including Islamic State, or ISIS.
The General's military force used to be backed by the United States. But, says DEBKAfile, "since refusing to recognize the government established by the UN in Tripoli, he [now] relies mainly on the support of Egypt and some of the Gulf emirates for his eastern Libyan Benghazi stronghold."
Egypt and the United Arab Emirates "provide Haftar's army with air support from Egyptian bases in the Western Desert."
So why has he gone to Moscow? The answer is that his allies suggested it. Leaders from the UAE "urged him to accept the Russian invitation to Moscow and bid for military assistance."
Yesterday was Haftar's second trip to the Kremlin's halls of power. His first was in June this year when he met with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and National Security Adviser Nikolai Patrushev. At the time, Russian leaders were wary of extending military aid to the maverick general. One reason is because the US, Italian and British special forces were engaging in a major offensive to drive ISIS out of the key Libyan port of Sirte.
That offensive failed. ISIS remains.
In light of Putin's recent rhetoric and actions against ISIS, especially vis-a-vis his Syrian campaign, Haftar has to wonder if Russia might do a better job against ISIS than the disappointing performance of the best-of-the best from the West.
If Putin and the General make a deal, it will not be lightly regarded by NATO or the US. But Europe already badly shaken by the election of Donald J. Trump as the next President of the United States. According to DEBKAfile, it is "causing seismic rumbles in the region."
Regardless, Israeli intelligence sources report that Putin is "offering Haftar's army jet fighters attack helicopters, armored vehicles and assorted missiles as well as air support for fighting the Islamic State."
Why take such a risk?
Putin's military and rhetorical conduct of late indicates a calculated risk that Western powers will not engage in an overt war. Accordingly, he is making a move to strengthen Russia's national interest.
In Libya, as throughout the Middle East, that national interest is very much about oil.
All the players in Libya, including Haftar and ISIS, are fighting for the prize of Libya's Mediterranean oil fields. It is all but certain that Putin also has them in mind as he negotiates with the US born General recruited by Muammar Gaddafi.
Moscow’s assistance in helping [Hafter] gain the upper hand in this struggle could be Russia's first play for a stake in Libya's oil industry.
This report is based on the story published by DEBKAfile at http://debka.com/article/25804/New-Putin-move-to-win-a-military-base-in-Libya