Russia has dismissed as “disinformation” claims by the United States that Moscow has deployed fighter planes to Libya to support its “mercenaries” aiding the rebels in the North African country.
Andrey Krasov, the deputy head of the defense committee of Russia’s State Duma, told Interfax on Tuesday that the accusation “does not correspond to reality.”
“Russia’s position is well known: we are in favor of ending the bloodshed in Libya, we urge all parties to the conflict to refrain from using weapons and sit at the negotiating table,” Krasov said.
He made the comments in response to a statement by US Africa Command (AFRICOM) earlier in the day that alleged Russian military aircraft had arrived in Libya from an airbase in Russia via Syria, where the statement claimed they were repainted to camouflage their Russian origin.
US Army Gen. Stephen Townsend, the commander of AFRICOM, claimed that they “watched as Russia flew fourth-generation jet fighters to Libya — every step of the way.”
AFRICOM said the aircraft were likely to provide close air support for the Russian mercenaries who he alleged were fighting alongside the rebel forces under the command of Libyan military strongman Khalifa Haftar.
AFRICOM offered no evidence for the allegations.
Russia denies military presence in Libya.
Libya has been in chaos since 2011, when a popular uprising and a NATO intervention led to the ouster of long-time dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
Since 2014, two rival seats of power have emerged in Libya, namely the internationally-recognized government of Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, and another group based in the eastern city of Tobruk, supported militarily by Haftar’s rebels.
Haftar, who is primarily supported by the UAE, Egypt, and Jordan, launched an offensive to capture Tripoli, the seat of the government, in April last year. His forces have been bogged down on the city’s outskirts.
Government forces, backed by Turkey, recently liberated several key towns that had been occupied by the rebels in the northwest. Haftar’s rebels have been intensifying a pushback by escalating attacks on the capital.
International attempts to bring about peace between the two warring sides have failed.