Russian Ambassador to Libya Ivan Molotkov recently said that Moscow would be ready to supply the legitimate Libyan government with weapons as soon as the arms embargo against the country is lifted. The statement came after the US-chaired summit in Vienna had agreed to consider a request from the internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) in Libya to be exempted from a UN arms embargo. The country’s unity government has been calling for international backers to speed up the re-arming of its forces ever since it came to power in January 2016. However, with 31 of its fighters recently killed by the Islamic State (IS), which is gaining stronger on Libyan soil by the day, the request seems especially urgent.
Molotkov is not the first Russian diplomat to hint at possible military aid for the Libyan government. In February 2015, Vladimir Churkin, the head of Russia’s mission to the UN, told journalists that Moscow was considering backing the official government in Tobruk with weapons and if necessary imposing a naval blockade on Libya to prevent the delivery of weapons to jihadists by sea. Since the five-year arms embargo that was upheld by the UN Security Council last year is still in place, it is not entirely clear how serious the Kremlin is about propping the emergent government in Tripoli up with military equipment. After all, it seems that Moscow is too invested in Syria at the moment, and its involvement in a conflict elsewhere in the Middle East could erode its efforts to support President Bashar al-Assad.