Is Russia interested in getting sucked into the increasingly complex series of civil wars in Libya? It so, they might have found an eager client in Gen. Khalifa Hifter, a long-time recipient of CIA aid who now styles himself the head of the Libyan National Army.
Gen. Hifter was recently in Moscow to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, seeking a substantial arms deal and offering to give Russia permission to build a military base in Libya in return. Russia has insisted they are not interested.
Hifter was a general under Moammar Gadhafi’s government until 1987, when he was captured in Libya’s war against Chad. He and the other POWs were disavowed by Gadhafi, and was recruited by the US to lead a rebel force backed by the CIA.
After Hifter’s first anti-Gadhafi rebellion collapsed, he moved to Virginia, and tried again in a 1996 rebellion, which also failed. During the US-backed regime change in 2011, Hifter again moved back to Libya, declaring himself the head of the army. In 2014 he announced he was imposing a military coup on the country, though he never ended up in power.
After the split in Libya’s government, Hifter eventually backed the Tobruk parliament, one of three extent would-be governments, and was finally given the position of army chief, at least for one of Libya’s armies. Since then he has been trying to install allies as mayors of towns in eastern Libya, and also attacked and captured some oil ports in central Libya, though the later caused him to be criticized by the US.
Hifter has long implied he had substantial international backing, with many speculating he was still in bed with the CIA. Other than Egypt’s junta, however, it’s not clear he’s got many allies, and his offer to trade Russia a base for arms appears to be a last ditch effort to get somebody to back his ambitions.
Either way, Russia doesn’t have any existing interests in Libya, nor any obvious reason to try to establish a base there. That they met with Hifter at all is somewhat surprising, and if nothing else likely reflects that he is no longer a major CIA client, as if he were he wouldn’t be shopping himself around.