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Hunting Russians: How the CIA is alleged to have tried to lure 33 Russians to Libya

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The security company PMC Wagner is increasingly in the spotlight. The situation in Belarus in 2020, when 33 Russian citizens were detained, has become a cause for active discussions in international media. Bellingcat investigators have already repeatedly made a high-profile statement and promised to release their documentary exposing PMCs and revealing details of some SBU "special operation", but it has been delayed now for several months, writes Alexi Ivanov, Moscow correspondent.

But now there are important details about the conflict in Belarus from the direct participants of the events - maybe this is a more reliable source of information than free interpretations of the events by Bellingcat? 

33 Russian citizens, dressed in military uniform and not resting in the sanatorium, aroused the suspicion of the Belarusian KGB, so finally these men were detained. shows now important information, citing sources - direct participants of the events. The President of the Foundation Maxim Shugaley alleges that in case of Belarus the whole CIA operation was planned. He claims that this was due to the failure of the information campaign in Libya in March-April 2020, during which the U.S. military command was unable to prove the presence of Wagner on the territory of the country. After that, they decided to develop a special operation together with the Ukrainian SBU.

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The alleged plan by the US and the SBU envisaged that Russian citizens aged between 20 and 50 were to be transferred to the territory of Mitiga airport (Tripoli), disguised in military uniforms and then shot. According to the plan, dead bodies of those killed would be transported to in Tarhuna, south-east of Tripoli, and then medias had to make scandalous statement about the bodies of Wagner PMC participants found in Libya. Thus, the U.S. wanted to kill two birds with one stone: to "prove" the presence of PMCs in an artificial way and to discredit Russia as the main geopolitical opponent.

The sources of the foundation also allege that CIA selected 180 people from Russia, divided into five groups - employees of military and security companies. For this purpose, they prepared fake documents stating that the Libyan Government of National Unity was inviting Russian citizens to guard the oil fields. However, the idea did not last long as most of the invitees, who felt that a provocation was being prepared, so they refused to go to Libya. It is not surprising during a widespread anti-Russian campaign about the alleged presence of Russian military in Libya. Then the CIA came up with a new idea: they offered Russian citizens jobs in Venezuela as security guards at oil facilities.

Further, a detailed plan for the implementation of the provocation was thought out: the group was to be taken on a charter flight in order to land the plane in Tripoli during an "emergency landing" and to be shot there. U.S. and Ukrainian intelligence officials also expected the charter to come from Turkish territory - but the plan went wrong as they failed to reach an agreement with Ankara.

The Russian participants in the events were then sent to Belarus. According to the plan, they were to be sent to Turkey by a regular flight, and from Istanbul they were to be sent by charter to Venezuela. The plan included the same emergency landing in Tripoli.

But this plan was also thwarted: the Turkish authorities were dragging their feet about organising the flight so as not to take responsibility for a possible failure, and also not to expose themselves to danger. During this pause, a group of invitees was taken by bus to the sanatorium "Belorusochka" in order to buy time to negotiate with Turkey.

But only the pause dragged on, and events in Belarus took their course: 33 Russian citizens, dressed in military uniform and not resting in the sanatorium, aroused the suspicion of the Belarusian KGB, so finally these men were detained.

That is why now the CIA and their information tools, such as Bellingcat, find it difficult to interpret the events and do not know how to explain the failure of the CIA and SBU operation.

Africa

EU sanctions: Commission publishes specific provisions concerning Syria, Libya, the Central African Republic and Ukraine

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The European Commission has adopted three opinions on the application of specific provisions in the Council Regulations on EU restrictive measures (sanctions) concerning Libya and Syria, the Central African Republic and actions undermining the territorial integrity of Ukraine. They concern 1) changes to two specific features of frozen funds: their character (sanctions concerning Libya) and their location (sanctions concerning Syria); 2) the release of frozen funds by way of enforcing a financial guarantee (sanctions concerning the Central African Republic) and; 3) the prohibition to make funds or economic resources available to listed persons (sanctions concerning the territorial integrity of Ukraine). While Commission opinions are not binding on competent authorities or EU economic operators, they are intended to offer valuable guidance to those who have to apply and follow EU sanctions. They will support the uniform implementation of sanctions across the EU, in line with the Communication on the European economic and financial system: fostering openness, strength and resilience.

Financial Services, Financial Stability and Capital Markets Union Commissioner Mairead McGuinness said: “EU sanctions must be implemented fully and uniformly throughout the Union. The Commission stands ready to assist national competent authorities and EU operators in tackling the challenges in applying these sanctions.”

EU sanctions are a foreign policy tool, which, among others, help to achieve key EU objectives such as preserving peace, strengthening international security, and consolidating and supporting democracy, international law and human rights. Sanctions are targeted at those whose actions endanger these values, and they seek to reduce as much as possible any adverse consequences for the civilian population.

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The EU has arond 40 different sanctions regimes currently in place. As part of the Commission's role as Guardian of the Treaties, the Commission is responsible for monitoring the enforcement of EU financial and economic sanctions across the Union, and also ensuring that sanctions are applied in a way that takes into account the needs of humanitarian operators. The Commission also works closely with member states to ensure that sanctions are implemented uniformly throughout the EU. More information on EU sanctions here.

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Can the EU come up with a common Libya policy?

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When European Union Ambassador to Libya José Sabadell announced the reopening of the bloc’s mission to Libya on 20 May, two years after it was shut, the news received distinctly muted fanfare. With new geopolitical crises hitting headlines every week, it is hardly surprising that the European political commentariat has gone quiet on its neighbour across the Mediterranean. But the radio silence on recent developments in the North African country reflects a worrying lack of reflection at EU level about the upcoming election which will decide the course of the nation in December, after a decade of bloodshed, writes Colin Stevens.

But despite the ten years that have elapsed since Nicolas Sarkozy’s fateful decision to throw France’s weight behind the anti-Gaddafi forces, member states’ actions in Libya remain both inconsistent and contradictory–a problem which has only served to exacerbate the country’s political divisions. However, precisely because Libya’s future hinges on the December vote, the EU should seek to bridge the divisions between its bigger members and unite European leaders behind a common foreign policy.

The haunting legacy of the Arab Spring

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The questions marks surrounding the upcoming elections reflect the jockeying for power in Libya of the past decade. After an eight-month civil war in 2011, during which at least 25,000 civilians lost their lives, protestors succeeded in toppling the 42-year-long regime of Colonel Gaddafi. But high spirits were quickly shattered as discord and distrust set in between the winning militias. In the aftermath, three different governments stepped into the power vacuum, thus triggering a second civil war and thousands more deaths.

So when Tripoli’s transitional unity government (GNU) was established in March, domestic and international optimism for an end to this destructive stalemate was widespread. But as the country’s polarised political factions continue to clash in the run up to the vote, the apparent gains made towards stable leadership in Libya are proving fragile–with the EU’s lack of a joint strategic vision further complicating things. The time is ripe for the EU to take a common stance on the political future of this strategically critical nation.

A two-horse race

That a stable future for Libya hangs on these elections fails to have hit home in Brussels. Indeed, while the Union is quick to mobilize on Libyan migrant policy and the withdrawal of non-Western foreign troops from the country, there is no bloc-wide consensus on the best candidate for the leadership. European powerhouses France and Italy, in particular, have been at loggerheads as to which feuding faction to back ever since the 2011 insurrection, when one diplomat quipped that the EU’s dream of a Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) “died in Libya – we just have to pick a sand dune under which we can bury it”. The intransigence of member states has complicated a unified EU response.

On the one hand, Italy has vocalized their support for the Government of National Accord (GNA), a UN-implemented party that also enjoys the support of Qatar and Turkey, which has held sway in Tripoli since 2014. But despite its UN backing, critics have looked increasingly askance at the party’s questionable financial agreements with Turkey, and its close connections Islamist extremists, including Libya’s branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. At a time when Libya’s increasing numbers of armed Salafi and Jihadi groups threatens both domestic, regional and European security, Italy’s support for the Islamist GNA is raising eyebrows.


The other force in the country is Marshal Khalifa Haftar, who is backed by France, seeks to reverse the worrying proliferation of extremism in Libya. As head of the Libyan National Army (LNA) and de facto leader of three quarters of the country’s territory (including its biggest oil fields), Haftar has a track record of fighting terrorism after suppressing the Islamic extremists in the country’s eastern Benghazi region in 2019. This dual Libyan-US citizen is considered well placed to stabilise the country enjoying the support of neighbouring Egypt, as well as the UAE and Russia. Despite drawing the ire of some, Haftar is popular within the battle-fatigued nation, with over 60% of the population declaring confidence in the LNA in 2017 opinion poll, compared to just 15% for the GNA.

A proxy election?

The longer the EU fails to speak up with one voice, and guide the country out of its twin civil wars, the more flak it will draw for intervening in the first place. Brussels has a wealth of experience in conflict resolution and has achieved some notable successes in conflicts where it has intervened with the full force of its member states behind it. But instead of deploying its expertise in Libya, the EU seems to have taken a rather hands off approach so as not to rattle feathers internally.

The muted response to the EU’s reopening of its mission in Libya reflects Brussels’ worrying disengagement from the political constellation of the nation. With the elections nearing, Berlaymont will have to be sure that this lack of talk does not lead to lack of thought in coming months. Without a coherent EU Libya policy, the power divide in the country between the two principal powers will only deepen, exacerbating the Islamist threat in Europe. In order to ensure that the country’s cautious optimism is not betrayed once again, the EU should orchestrate diplomatic discussions between its members sooner rather than later.

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Economics first: Ahmed Maiteeq's approach to the Libyan unity is working

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Amid the fiasco of the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF), which failed to form an interim government in divided Libya, the result of talks Wednesday between economic institutions representing the two sides to the conflict was an unexpected success, Bloomberg reported.

Stephany Williams, the Acting Special Representative of the Secretary-General of the UN and current head of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) recognized Tuesday that LPDF went to impasse as talks since November failed to form interim authorities in the country. The only result was an established date for new elections in December 2021.

As Williams noted, the UN was forced to set up an advisory committee to bridge the differences between participants in the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum.

On Wednesday, however, encouraging news came from Switzerland. Representatives from the two branches of the Central Bank of Libya (one in Tobruk and the other in Tripoli), the Audit Bureau, the Ministry of Finance and the National Oil Corporation agreed to merge the banking institutions and define a single exchange rate.

Stephanie Williams said in a statement that "now is the moment for all Libyans - particularly the country's political actors - to demonstrate similar courage, determination and leadership to put aside their personal interests and overcome their differences for the sake of the Libyan people in order to restore the country's sovereignty and the democratic legitimacy of its institutions".

Thus, she in fact recognized that the only successful road to the peace in Libya lies within the framework defined not by external actors but Libyans themselves, as negotiations on the Libyan economy started from the bold initiative of Ahmed Maiteeq the Vice Prime Minister of the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord.

LPDF on the contrary was the mere initiative of Williams herself and was heavily criticized by many Libyan actors.

Maiteeq's approach

One of the main outcomes of the year 2020 was the new start of the peace process in Libya. Beginning with negotiations in Moscow in January 2020 and a full-scale international conference in Berlin, the search for a peaceful solution to the conflict continued with the Cairo Declaration in June. Finally in August the parties to the conflict: the Government of National Accord  (GNA) in Tripoli and the Libyan National Army of Khalifa Haftar reached a ceasefire.

However, an initiative by Ahmed Maiteeq has given a decisive impetus to the peace process. In September he reached an agreement with Khalifa Haftar to resume Libya's oil exports and establish a joint committee, representatives of both sides of the conflict, to oversee the fair distribution of oil export revenues.

At the time, Ahmed Maiteeq was criticized by a number of GNA figures. The Chairman of the High Council of State Khalid al-Mishri even tried to denounce it. The time has shown that Maiteeq’s approach was correct. His initiative made it possible to relaunch the Libyan economy, to begin solving the urgent problems that concerned all the inhabitants of the country without exception, to create the prerequisites for stable and sustainable development and to cure the wounds of war. His approach was inclusive (nobody else in GNA did not want to spoke with Haftar) and pragmatic.

Thus, the Maiteeq-Haftar agreement was also the first real step to unite the country. It was it that made it possible to realize the unification of the Petroleum Facilities Guard, divided by parties to the conflict in November 2020. The current agreement to unify the financial institutions is only a logical consequence of the September agreement, since oil is the main source of income in Libya.

The efforts of Ahmed Maitig have been recognized internationally. As the recent report of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS) says:

"On the economy's side, Deputy Prime Minister Ahmed Maiteeq has continued to seek solutions to build on the relative success of the agreement to reopen Libyan oil assets struck with Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar in September. Over the past month, Maiteeq has tried to connect officials from the Government of National Accord (GNA) and the eastern-based Interim Government in order to pursue the resumption of an economic reform program, with the imperative of unifying the country's financial institutions."

The path to peace

It is noteworthy that, amid the squabbling of politicians who cannot agree among themselves, Libya's economic institutions are proving remarkably contractual. This observation alone shows that the solution to the Libyan crisis lies largely in the economic realm. Economic agreements are a prerequisite for the normalization of political relations.

On the other hand, political will is needed to push through economic agreements. Thus, the success of the peace process in Libya will largely depend on which politicians will play the main role: pragmatists interested in unifying the country or Islamists ideologically irreconcilable with their opponents.

Ahmed Maiteeq is considered to be a pragmatist, ideologically neutral politician with close ties to Libyan business. In addition, he is considered one of the main contenders for the position of the future Prime Minister. On 1 December, while participating in Mediterranean Dialogues forum, Maiteeq reiterated his willingness to lead the next government if Libyans choose him.

If he, or someone like him, is given more power, the peace process in Libya is likely to gain new momentum, boosting confidence among all Libyans regardless their political affiliations.

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