With the Syrian Civil War winding down and the Assad regime secure, as well as the Kremlin’s influence in Syria and the surrounding region, Moscow looks to be expanding the Russian presence into North Africa. Russian special forces have been reported to be operating out of the Egyptian village of Sidi-Barrani, near the Libyan border. The troops are suspected of supporting Libyan strong man Khalifa Haftar in his fight against the UN-backed central government in Benghazi. Egyptian sources told Reuters that Russian troops had also been operating from another military installation, Marsa Matrouh, for some time. Reuters also reported that Russian security contractors had been operating out of Libyan territory controlled by Haftar for months.
For its part, the Russian Defense Ministry and other politicians denied the accusations.
Vladimir Dzhabarov, First Deputy Chairperson of the Federation Council Committee on International Affairs, said “This is fake news, no attention should even be paid to it.”
“There are no Russian troops in Sidi-Barrani [in Egypt] at all,” Defense Ministry spokesperson Igor Konashenkov said. “This is not the first year that such bogus stories from anonymous sources have entertained the public,” reports The Moscow Times.
North Africa and the Levant were a long-term focus of the Soviet Union. Russian President Putin seems to be restoring this Russian influence across the area and the Middle East in general. With the complete abdication of American power in the region by President Obama, why not? It is obvious the Trump administration will be keen on restoring American power projection capability and influence in the region after the disastrous last two decades for the United States. Putin probably wants to secure as much real estate as possible before the domestic issues die down for Trump and he can truly focus on foreign affairs.
The Moscow Times also reports that Kaftar met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov last November in Moscow and Russian operations in North Africa began shortly afterwards. Kaftar was also treated to a tour of a Russian naval vessel soon after the Moscow trip.
Egypt sees Russia as the power player in the Mediterranean and the North African region and not the United States, hence the cooperation against Islamic extremists in the area.
One thing is for sure, the Obama decade was a unmitigated disaster for America in the Middle East. Trump has a lot of repairing and catching up to do.