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Saturday, May 21, 2022

NOVA: 2,000 Wagner Mercenaries Remain in Libya

Three Libyan sources told Italian news agency, Nova, that there were at least 1,500-2,000 of Russia’s Wagner mercenaries still present in the country.

Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov stated that the Wagner Group was invited to Libya by the eastern-based Parliament. The mercenaries entered during the 2019-2020 civil war.

According to the latest report by the UN Panel of Experts, about 2,000 fighters remained in Libya. They carried Pantsir S-1 anti-aircraft defence systems, MiG-29 fighters, and Su-24 tactical bombers.

A Libyan source in Tunisia told Nova that there were 5,000 Russians and Syrians present in Libya. Meanwhile, two other sources in Tripoli spoke of “1,500-2,000” and “more than 2,000” fighters.

In an interview with Italian television Mediaset, Lavrov reiterated Moscow’s position that Wagner “has nothing to do with the Russian state.”

“My dear colleague, Jean-Yves Le Drian (French FM), as well as (EU diplomacy chief) Josep Borrell in September 2021, told me directly that Russia had nothing to do in Africa. Neither by state means, nor privately, because Africa is an area (of interest) of the EU and France,” Sergei Lavrov said.

“We also explained that in Libya, this private military company was invited by the authorities in Tobruk, where the Parliament is located. They are present there on a commercial basis,” the Russian diplomat said.

Last month, two Western officials told The Financial Times that Moscow has withdrawn more than a thousand “Syrian and Russian mercenaries” that were deployed in Libya. An indication that the invasion of Ukraine is putting pressure on Moscow’s foreign military deployments.

The report stated that in recent weeks, Russia withdrew about 200 mercenaries from the Wagner Group, and about a thousand Syrians stationed in Libya.

A regional official said about 5,000 mercenaries are still in Libya, and are working for Russia. A prominent Libyan official confirmed that it had “withdrawn mercenaries from his country”, without specifying their number.

Three Western officials said that the Wagner forces withdrew from Libya, in order to be deployed in Ukraine. Officials in Kyiv said that Syrian militants were killed, while participating in the battles alongside the Russians on the front lines.

Last month, Turkey closed its airspace to Russian military flights from Libya and Syria. This was amid fears of transferring fighters and equipment to Ukraine, according to Turkish and Western officials,

“The Turks had evidence that the Russians were moving personnel, and possibly equipment, (from Syria and Libya) to the battlefield in Ukraine,” the Western official said.

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