NATO is ready to contribute to security building in Libya once conditions allow, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Thursday.
Speaking at a news conference, the NATO chief said that he welcomed a Libyan cease-fire.
“We have seen the presence of fighter jets and mercenaries financed by Russia and all the Russian military capabilities,” he said in response to a question about Russia’s military buildup in the region.
“For NATO, it just highlights the importance of supporting the U.N.-led efforts to find a negotiated solution to the Libyan crisis,” he added, as quoted by Anadolu Agency (AA).
Russia’s heavy investment in new military equipment and increased military presence along the military alliance’s borders fall into a pattern, according to Stoltenberg.
Russia is not only present in Libya, “but in other parts of Africa, the Middle East, Syria, the Baltic region and high north,” he said.
The developments have caused “great concern” for NATO, but the alliance “follows and monitors very closely” Moscow’s actions and has invested in new capabilities “in response to a more assertive Russia,” he added.
In the Libyan conflict, Russia, along with France, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), has supported the illegitimate eastern-based forces loyal to putschist Gen. Khalifa Haftar against the legitimate United Nations-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA), which is backed by Turkey and Qatar.
In June, the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) revealed that 2,000 Russian mercenaries from the Wagner Group had been operating alongside the Haftar forces.
The head of the public relations department of AFRICOM, Nicole Kirschmann, said the heavy presence of the Russian companies and mercenaries in the region destabilizes the African continent.
The U.S. had also expressed concern about the Russian mercenaries’ interference in Libya’s energy facilities and oil fields, calling them “a direct assault on Libya’s sovereignty and prosperity.”
Russia’s Wagner Group is one of the most controversial among the mercenary groups. It is owned by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a businessperson with close links to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Putin, on the other hand, when asked about Russia’s involvement in the Libyan conflict, replied that no Russian servicepeople were in Libya acting on behalf of the Russian state or receiving payment from Russia.
UN tries to appoint mediator
While diplomatic efforts for a permanent solution in the war-torn country continue, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres plans to appoint veteran diplomat Jan Kubis as his envoy in Libya nearly a year after the last mediator stepped down, according to a letter to the U.N. Security Council seen by Reuters Thursday.
If there are no objections by anyone on the 15-member council by Friday evening, Kubis will succeed Ghassan Salame, who quit the role in March last year due to stress. Salame’s deputy Stephanie Williams has been the acting Libya envoy.
Kubis, a former Slovakian foreign minister, is currently the U.N. special coordinator for Lebanon. He has also served as the U.N. special envoy in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The planned appointment of Kubis comes after the Security Council in December approved a plan by Guterres to name Bulgarian diplomat Nickolay Mladenov to the Libya role. But a week later, Mladenov said he could not take up the position due to “personal and family reasons.”
That followed months of disagreement in the Security Council over a U.S. push to split the role to have one person run the U.N. political mission and a special envoy to focus on mediation. The council eventually agreed to that proposal in September.
Diplomats said the proposed appointment of Mladenov – who was then the U.N. Middle East envoy – was delayed because some council members wanted Guterres to first name who would succeed Mladenov as the mediator between Israel and Palestine.
In December, the council approved Norwegian Tor Wennesland to replace Mladenov.