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Updated May 26, 2020
gna libya
Muhammad Qanunu (center), military spokesperson for Libya’s UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA), addresses the media in front of a Russian-made Pantsir S-1 air defense system on a truck after it was seized from forces loyal to Libya’s eastern-based strongman Khalifa Haftar.

Libya’s Government of National Accord (GNA), recognized by the United Nations and based in Tripoli, reported that hundreds of Russian mercenaries had been evacuated from combat zones south of the city. The news comes not long after a particularly devastating set of defeats for the Libyan National Army (LNA), under the command of Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, who lost the strategically important al-Watiya Air Base to GNA forces on Monday, May 18.

 

Russian support for Haftar played a key role in the LNA’s advance towards Tripoli

 

Images quickly started circulating on social media of GNA forces basking in their victory, parading a captured Russian-made Pantsir-S1 air defense system and other seized equipment. Russian support for Haftar, which delivered anti-air equipment and munitions alongside a couple of hundred private military contractors, played a key role in the LNA’s steady advance towards Tripoli since the launch of the offensive to capture the capital in April 2019.

 

Balancing Act 

Moscow has denied any role in the presence of Russian fighters in Libya, but the fact is that a collapse of the GNA and a prolonging of the conflict would help Russia check Turkey’s power in the Mediterranean. Turkey formally backs the GNA along with Qatar, whereas Russia and the United Arab Emirates support Haftar. The United States, which prioritizes the fight against terrorism, has been vague about its support of either Haftar or the GNA.

 

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