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Libyan oil is Putin’s “trump card”

Fighting in Libya: all to Moscow’s advantage. Abdullah Doma/AFP/Getty

Since 2019, the Wagner Group – a Moscow-affiliated network of mercenaries – has been embroiled in Libya’s civil war, says Robert Uniacke in Foreign Policy. About 2,000 fighters are operating in the country as “guns-for-hire” for the Libyan National Army (LNA), a faction that opposes the Western-backed government in the capital, Tripoli. Libya could well be Vladimir Putin’s “trump card” – indeed, it could prove more important than Russia’s struggles in Ukraine. For one thing, Libya is useful to Putin as a staging post for other African adventures: one air base has been used as a “logistics hub” to move soldiers and equipment to Mali, for example.

But the principal issue is oil. Libya has loads of it – 39% of Africa’s total reserves, in fact – and it sells the bulk of its supplies to Europe. Though Wagner and the LNA don’t control Tripoli, they do control an “array of oil facilities and nearby military bases”. This gives Putin, via Wagner, the ability “to put a chokehold” on Libya’s oil production. Given current tight energy markets, and Europe’s “impending winter gas supply crisis”, this is a potent bargaining chip. An LNA blockade has already, with “tacit approval” from Wagner, slashed Libya’s oil output by at least two thirds since it began in April. Deep in the north African desert, Kremlin proxies “continue to turn up the heat on Europe”.