Pre-war Libyan oil exports were 1.4 million barrels a day, but now stand at below 700,000
EU states and the US have urged a Russia-backed Libyan warlord to hand back oil ports, after a US warning that Russia was trying to do in Libya what it did in Syria.
The British, French, Italian, and US ambassadors to Libya said oil facilities “belong to the Libyan people and must remain under the exclusive control” of central authorities.
Their joint statement, on Tuesday (14 March), also voiced “strong concern regarding violence in the oil crescent” and called for “an end to hostilities”.
They spoke after Khalifa Haftar, a Russia-backed warlord, said on Facebook that he had captured the ports of Ras Lanuf and al-Sidra, two of Libya’s main oil terminals.
His assault included 1,300 ground troops and air strikes, the Libyan military said.
The EU and US are helping the UN-recognised Libyan government, the Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli, to extend its control and to fight Islamist radicals.
The EU is also working with the GNA to stop migrants after 181,000 people came via Libya to claim asylum in Europe last year.
Haftar, whose Tobruk-based LNA force holds sway in eastern Libya, has received funding, military training, and diplomatic support from Russia.
Agila Saleh, a Haftar political ally, told Ria Novosti, a Russian state news agency, on Tuesday: “They [Russia] promised to help us in the fight against terrorism.”
“We asked the Russian government to help us with training the soldiers in our armed forces and the repair of military equipment by Russian specialists because the majority of our officers studied in Russia and many speak the Russian language”, he said.
Haftar in January toured a Russian warship and spoke to Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu.
He also met Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow in November.
Thomas Waldhauser, a US general in charge of its Africa operations, told a Senate hearing last week that Russia posed a threat to Western interests in Libya.
Asked by one senator if Russia was trying to do in Libya what it did in Syria, where it has built a new military base, the general said: “Yes, that's a good way to characterise it”.
He said its support for Haftar was designed to “influence” Libya’s future.
The Reuters news agency on Tuesday reported that Russia had deployed a 22-man special forces unit at a base in Egypt next to Libya’s eastern border.
Reuters earlier reported that armed Russian private security contractors operated as part of Haftar’s army in February.
Russia and Egypt denied the reports, however.
Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, said “we don’t have that information” on Russian deployments.
An Egyptian spokesman said: “There is no foreign soldier from any foreign country on Egyptian soil.”
Russian MPs branded the Reuters reports a “hoax” and “fake news”, while Alexey Pushkov, a Russian senator, trolled the EU on immigration.
“In 2016, 180,000 immigrants crossed to the EU from N.Africa, mainly Libya. Was it intelligent to bring down Gaddafi to obtain such a result?”, he said on Twitter, referring to Western air strikes against the late Libyan dictator seven years ago.
The US last year also conducted air strikes in Libya to help the LNA fight jihadists.
Waldhauser told the Senate that these could “serve as a model for future operations in the region”.
“The instability in Libya and north Africa may be the most significant, near-term threat to US and allies’ interests on the continent,” he said.
He said the conflict in Libya risked “spilling into Tunisia and Egypt and the broader Maghreb, allowing the movement of foreign fighters, [and] enabling the flow of migrants out of Libya to Europe”.
’If I may be so blunt’
EU foreign relations chief Federica Mogherini said on Tuesday that she “welcomed” Russia’s new effort to broker a ceasefire in Syria.
But she pointed the brutality of its bombing campaign there, which the EU has called a war crime.
Europe was “a humanitarian partner [for Syria] that has helped not bombed the country, if I may be so blunt”, she said in the European Parliament.
She said her work with Turkey on Syria was “constructive” despite the dispute over Turkish rallies in the EU.
She also unveiled a European Commission plan on how to rebuild Syria after the war ends.
The blueprint covers a new constitution, security sector reform, refugee returns, and job creation.
She said the Syrian war, which began six years ago in March, had claimed 320,000 lives and that it was still claiming “victims every day”.