Skip to main content

Commentary: Can Russia make a positive change in Libya?

Reports on the increase of Russian military presence in Libya sparked international controversy and triggered a debate within Russia over the need for a presence in the distant Mediterranean country. Russia indeed eyes a bigger role in the conflict, but one different from what the reports ascribe Moscow to play.
Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Libya's Foreign Minister Mohamed Taher Siala enter a hall during a meeting in Moscow, Russia December 12, 2017. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin - UP1EDCC0RKC6P

Speculations over increased Russian military presence in Libya entailed a new round of debate over Russia’s goals in the Middle East North Africa region. As Al-Monitor reported last week, the report by the British tabloid The Sun also triggered controversies within Russia over whether going into Libya is in the country’s best national interests. Moreover, the rumors run in conflict with previous public statements made by Russian officials at all levels. So it really is important to have the facts straight.

In recent months, government structures controlled by the Chamber of Representatives and patronized by the Libyan National Army from Tobruk had requested that Russia provide them with additional financial aid, which the state administration needs to operate state agencies on the territories under its authority. Considering that Tripoli and Tobruk administrations are involved in a constant confrontation, the Chamber of Representatives barely manages to meet the basic daily needs of the population in the areas it controls and maintain the administrative structures. One of these urgent problems is a cash deficit. The quantity of cash circulating among individuals and companies (both private and state-owned) is limited, and further money issuance is impossible as the Central Bank and the Mint of Libya are based in Tripoli. Russia has already provided such aid, acknowledging the legitimacy of the Chamber of Representatives and its status as the sole legislative institution of Libya. However, the support is strictly non-military; it is supposed to relieve the suffering of civilians in the war-torn country. This is the reason Russia has increased food supplies to the country in recent years — to help the nation resist economic setbacks and their negative impacts on the population.

Access the Middle East news and analysis you can trust

Join our community of Middle East readers to experience all of Al-Monitor, including 24/7 news, analyses, memos, reports and newsletters.


Only $100 per year.