Around 70 soldiers from Libyan military strongman Khalifa Haftar’s forces have been flown to Russia for medical treatment in what is believed to be the first signs of public co-operation between Moscow and Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA).
Opponents of Haftar and the LNA based in the east of the country are concerned with the close relationship developing between Moscow and Haftar, leading to Haftar potentially challenging the UN-backed government in Tripoli which refuses to cooperate with the Field Marshal.
An official from Haftar’s forces confirmed that the soldiers travelled to Russia from Egypt after they were collected from Benina Airport in Libya’s Benghazi, but did not reveal any further details, according to Reuters.
Another military source close to Haftar further added that this will not be the only operation of its kind for the LNA’s wounded, hinting at Haftar’s good relations with Egypt.
Haftar’s forces gained credibility after fronting the fight against Daesh and former rebels in Benghazi and Sirte over the last two years, but has refused to recognise the UN-backed Government of National Accord in Tripoli.
Haftar has been travelling between Egypt and Russia in a bid to strengthen trilateral ties. Haftar travelled twice to Moscow last year to attend meetings with the Russian foreign and defence ministers, as well as the national security chief to ask for military aid in fighting “extremists” in the country.
The military man also sparked controversy last month when he was invited on board a Russian aircraft carrier that had anchored near the Libyan coast after its mission in Syria and was given a tour of the premises.
Russia in turn has printed nearly $2.8 billion on contract for the Libyan central bank and transferred it to an eastern city that is loyal to the military chief.
Haftar was described by Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov as “a leading political and military figure” in an interview last month.