Russia 'hired' Syrians to fight in Libya, sources say
Russia 'hired' hundreds of Syrian mercenaries to fight in Libya, sources say
Russia reportedly hired hundreds of Syrian mercenaries to fight in Libya during an escalation of violence last month.
Russia has reportedly recruited hundreds of Syrian mercenaries to fight in Libya for rogue General Khalifa Haftar in May, during a recruitment drive, Syrian opposition sources familiar with the matter say.
The mercenaries were recruited in May during an acceleration of violence, Reuters reported.
A private military contractor called Wagner Group conducted the hiring with Russian army supervision, according to two senior Syrian opposition sources and a regional source.
A former Wagner Group member claimed the company had sent Syrian fighters to Libya for the first time in 2019.
Some 300 fighters recruited during this time came from the Homs area, including former Free Syrian Army fighters, a senior opposition source said, and 320 came from the southwest, another source claimed.
More than 900 Syrians were recruited by Russia to fight in Libya in May, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, with fighters being trained in Homs before going to Libya, though that number may well be higher.
The movement of fighters into Libya violates a UN arms embargo and the UN’s acting Libya envoy on May 19 advised the Security Council to stop "a massive influx of weaponry, equipment and mercenaries".
"Russia and Turkey are both escalating their fire power and force numbers in Libya, where Europe has been caught on its heels," said Joshua Landis, head of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma.
"Russia has tried to match Turkey's effort to send Syrian mercenaries, but with mixed results."
Russian involvement in Syria and Libya demonstrate a desire to increase its axis of power in the Mediterranean, experts have claimed.
Russian President Vladimir Putin danced around questions related to Russian presence in Libya, and earlier this year said that if there were Russians in Libya, they are not representing the state, nor are they financed by the state.
A spokesman for Haftar’s Libyan National Army denied it had recruited Syrian fighters.
The UN-backed GNA government has criticised foreign involvement in the Libyan war, though its army was supplied with drones and air defence systems from Turkey.
GNA deputy defence minister Saleh Namroush said its request for military support was in response to what he called "international meddling in Libya".
Haftar is supported by Russia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, according to experts, despite denials from all three that they are directly involved.