A United Nations report that claimed a private Russian army is fighting on behalf of Libya’s eastern warlord was based on rigged and biased data, the Russian Foreign Ministry said Tuesday.
In an interview with state-run Russian agency RIA Novosti, Foreign Ministry official Petr Ilichev said the claims made in the report were “simply unfounded.”
“The report is built on the basis of unverified or clearly rigged data and is aimed at discrediting Russian policies,” he said. “The rumors about the presence in Libya of the notorious Russian 'mercenaries' are based on unfair information.”
The 57-page report drafted by UN sanctions monitors and obtained by Reuters said up to 1,200 military contractors from the Russian paramilitary organization Wagner Group were operating in Libya to bolster the forces of renegade commander Khalifa Hifter in Libya.
Between August 2018 and August 2019, more than two dozen flights occurred between Russia and Libya by civilian aircraft "strongly linked to or owned by" the shadowy Russian organization or related companies, the report found.
It’s believed mercenaries from Wagner have also fought in war zones including Syria, Ukraine and Sudan. The Kremlin denies links to the group or the use of any mercenaries in foreign conflicts.
Ilichev added that he was “extremely concerned” that the report, which was submitted to the United Nations Security Council, had leaked, and demanded an investigation.
Russia, along with Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, is supporting Hifter’s self-styled Libyan National Army in its fight against the internationally recognized Tripoli-based government. The UN-backed Government of National Accord counts among its patrons Turkey, which has enlisted Syrian rebels to join the fight against Hifter.
The United States has accused Russia of sending warplanes to the war-torn country in an attempt to “tip the scales in its favor.” Last month, US Africa Command said fighter aircraft painted “to camouflage their Russian origin” were delivered to Libya via Syria.