FLORES: Decoding Russian Doublespeak on Libya – Cutting through the ‘Fog of InfoWar’

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Russia appears to be involved in a multi-pronged doublespeak campaign to run at least two different information war streams. In one stream, there is a strong pro-LNA and pro-Haftar thread, which underscores divisions between, for example Moscow and Paris backing Haftar’s LNA and Ankara and Rome backing the GNA.

In another stream, the thread runs closer to international norms, and tries to stay in line with the UN’s recognition of the GNA government based in Tripoli. This much is only to be expected, as officially the Russian Federation is not in the ‘Venezuelan’ (i.e. American) business of openly declaring new heads of state into existence. But covertly? This is what we will be examining, as all this is to be expected in the infowar under conditions of 4GW or fourth generation warfare.

READ MORE: Libyans Increasingly Look To Haftar And Russia To Pull Libya From Muslim Brotherhood’s Failed State

The difficult task for Russia is how to support an unrecognized actors on the Libyan field, and so engaged itself in a campaign aimed at the dissemblance of reality. This much is evident in the statements by Russian diplomat Lev Dengov, the head of the Russian contact group for normalization in Libya. He claims that the reports on alleged shipments of Russian mercenaries to Libya are part of unverified information promoted by ‘certain actors’ in order to ‘aggravate the conflict’ in the North African country.

Dengov said that “in the media, in the international community different actors, involved in Libyan processes in one way or another, try to manipulate information, and there is verified and unverified information.”

According to some ‘unverified reports’, he noted, “Russia allegedly sent there [to Libya] a contingent of up to 1,000” mercenaries.

“All these are unproven facts,” he said. He stressed that “so far no official source confirmed these events.”

But FRN has been flooded with credible reports, some of which were reported here, that indeed Russian mercenaries are in Libya. Now if this number is less than 1,000, or significantly more than 1,000, then in the narrow legalistic sense, Dengov is not lying per se. Does it obfuscate the truth? Absolutely.

And just what is a ‘Russian mercenary’? The presence of Russian military is not on the table, and not in question. Does the Russian head of the contact group really speak for all the private sector activities of formations like Wagner around the world? Probably not. And if these Wagner men had Ukrainian, Kazakh, Uzbek, Armenian, or Tajik passports, would Dengov’s statement also, in the narrowest sense, be true? Probably so.

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In the opinion of the Russian diplomat, this information is part of “a propaganda promoted by people or countries interested in a new provocation to aggravate the conflict and create an environment not favorable for a peaceful solution” in Libya.

“We are witnessing a unique process that takes place in Libya: once an agreement is reached, false news is published in the media in some countries that seek to undermine these agreements,” he said. That means, he continued, that “someone is interested in it.”

“You have to find out who has the interest to support a permanent chaos in Libya and act with that information in mind,” he urged.

If all we had so far in this conflict were these words, and little more, it may be tempting to take these at face value. But this bears a close semblance to Russian claims that it was not involved in the Donbass, something which was only true if sticking to a few technical points relating to specific government actors, rather than assessing this based on whether or not there was a broad public-co-private effort involving individuals and security company-type outfits (Voentorg, ‘northern winds’, etc.).

And likewise, the evidence pointing to Paris’ preference to Haftar be that as it may, places their position at odds with that of Italy and several key EU players, as well as the official UN recognition of the GNA government. This point brings France and Russia together, while at the same time Deputy Prime Minister of Italy and Minister of the Interior Matteo Salvini has been shoring up the ‘end sanctions on Russia’ campaign within Italy.

Meanwhile rumors will always persist that Moscow prefers Le Pen over Macron, and that the slightly-more-than-loose association with Le Pen with at least some sections of the Yellow Vests can in this way connect Moscow to the Yellow Vests and against Macron’s government. Russia’s state media, RT’s uniquely extensive coverage of the Yellow Vests also appears to weigh in. For such a movement, combined with such overt and public violence from the state authorities, is enough to force the government to step down if such global media efforts were amplified. So this is absolutely a card that Moscow has yet to fully play, and has played so far.

Setting aside for a moment Haftar’s numerous and successful trips to Moscow where he met with high-ranking officials from the diplomatic and military vectors, an interesting ‘Lavrovesque’ clue that Dengov gave away, that Moscow ‘does’ support the LNA was that it de facto recognizes the LNA as a legitimate fighting force whose primary campaign is against ‘terrorism’. Here we see the wise diplomatic ‘clarification’ that Russia has used in Syria, in sorting how to deal with the various ‘FSAs’ – which are ‘agreement capable’ and which are unworkable proxies of a ‘terrorist’ nature.

READ MORE: CONFIRMED: Haftar In Moscow For Meeting With Russian Ministry Of Defense Officials

This clue was when Dengov stated that Russia considers it necessary for the commander of the Libyan National Army (LNA), Marshal Khalifa Haftar, to coordinate his actions with Tripoli when it comes to fighting terrorists:

“Actions of this kind must be coordinated with Tripoli and the Government of National Unity, because for Libyans all terrorists are enemies, so it is impossible for one part [of the internal conflict] to be friendly with the terrorists and the other, enemy “, he said.

This is clearly an open attack on the Muslim Brotherhood forces which back the UN ‘recognized’ government of the GNA, which Haftar is fighting against, but which the GNA relies on. Missing from these Russian ‘not quite denials’ of backing Haftar, is any accounting of the Saudi-Egyptian-Russian anti-terrorism network across North Africa, and that Russia has backed Egyptian campaigns in the region for several years now. It appears the room which allowed the Saudi end to become more realizable was the rise of MBS in the KSA.

But consider for a moment what this means. The position entirely in line with the UN would not be that the LNA somehow coordinates its attacks with the GNA against the very terrorist networks that support the GNA, but that the LNA is a rogue formation without legitimacy at the international level. Thus, Russia’s real position is that of supporting the LNA.

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There were absolutely two realizations that have happened:

1. That Turkey is acting as a multipolar actor, and is free from the direct influence of the U.S. This is a nuanced matter, and does not therefore place Ankara as either subordinate to Moscow nor an ally of Iran per se. This is, in fact, not how the multipolar revolution goes down.

2. n increasingly sovereign Turkey is going to engage in relations with any number of actors, including the U.S or anyone else, as it leverages, hedges, balances, and triangulates its positions in this ‘great game’. This means that Russia cannot exclude cooperation with anyone, especially of those ‘anyones’ – such as the KSA – are the same which their own ‘frenemies’ can make common cause with otherwise (such as we saw in the anti-Syrian coalition, one which is broken up into pieces).

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It was Egypt that first unceremoniously bowed out of backing the anti-Syrian coalition, when Russia and Saudi Arabia agreed to back the pro-Mubarak wing of the Egyptian military in alliance with secular and democratic civil society forces in the country, in the form of Al Sisi.

Then came the breakdown of other Gulf Monarchies, such as Qatar, who later quietly exited the stage. Bear in mind that of the radicalized ‘Salafist’ forces fighting against Syria, there was always a division that paired up ideologically and geopolitically, between Qutbist (Muslim Brotherhood) forces and Wahhabist (Al Qaeda) forces.

In our work with Iranian state media at the time, it became clear that ‘talking points’ ought to exclude any negative focus on Qatar, even as their own Al Thani dynasty run operation ‘Al Jazeera’ continued to promote a leftoid version of the FSA mythology for western consumption. And now in our work with Pakistani media, representing a state which is experiencing a ‘sea change’ in foreign policy which still resembles their prior incarnation (this is a matter of function), it is less popular to speak of ‘Wahhabist’ in the negative sense – Wahhabism is the official form of Sunni Islam in Saudi Arabia, and is respected in Pakistan, the Saudis have funded and financed, and provided theologic training for any number of the larger Mosques and Madrasas in Pakistan.

It is with all this in mind that we can return to a sensible reconstruction of Dengov’s actual meaning.

And so, commenting on the offensive that Haftar ordered against the Libyan capital, Tripoli, on April 4 in order to “free it from the terrorists”, the Russian diplomat stressed that Moscow is not clear “who qualifies as terrorists”.  But the subject of this statement is not clear itself – just ‘who’ is doing the qualifying? Moscow or Haftar?

Dengov said at the same time not to jump to conclusions about Haftar’s actions and analyze the whole situation in detail. He also stressed that Russia is not inclined to any side of the conflict in Libya. And this statement really gives it all away: this is saying in plain terms – ‘Do not negatively judge Haftar’. But how should we interpret such statements?

This is really a lot of leeway and open-mindedness for an actor that Russia says not only is it engaged in a legitimate anti-terrorist campaign (how can this be, if only the GNA is the legal government in Libya?) and then not to  “jump to (negative) conclusions about Haftar’s actions”. Dengov implores us to analyze the whole situation in detail, a noble and honest request. For it leads to a clearer assessment of the veiled diplomatic maneuvers from the Kremlin, acting of course within the technical rubric of ‘international law’.

Furthermore, if Russia were really not supporting Haftar, they would, by default, have to oppose him. For sitting right now at the chair in the UN is Tripoli’s representative, from the GNA, not Haftar’s LNA.

“We do not support any of the parties to the conflict in Libya and we maintain a moderate stance toward all of them,” he said. Dengov recalled that Moscow advocates a peaceful resolution in Libya and opposes any use of force. At the same time, the diplomat expressed Russia’s willingness to share its experience in the peace process.

“Our doors are open to all those who want to consult us or take advantage of our experience in peace processes,” he said. For the time being, he said, one should not expect the sides of the Libyan conflict to reach an agreement soon.

“In addition, there is pressure from different external actors with different points of view and interests, so it will be difficult to unite everything,” Dengov added.

Not reopening of the Embassy in Libya is another big statement

Russia is not considering reopening its diplomatic mission in Libya at the moment, Dengov said.

“Because at the moment we can not say that our diplomats can feel safe in Tripoli, this issue [the reopening of the Embassy] should not arise in the immediate future,” he explained.

“The security situation, both in the capital and in the country as a whole, is the main factor that will be taken into account when making a decision”, he said.

“From now on we could address this issue more closely, today it is premature to talk about it,” he said.
Russia evacuated its diplomatic staff from Libya after the embassy in Tripoli suffered an attack in October 2013 by armed men who opened fire on the legation and tried to break into its premises.

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It should be noted that these ‘armed men’ were covertly sanctioned by the very same UN-approved GNA that Moscow is engaged in a ‘reality dissemblance’ campaign over.

On April 4th, the Libyan crisis entered a new phase of tension after the commander of the Libyan National Army, Khalifa Haftar, ordered an offensive against Tripoli to “free it from the terrorists.” All the while Moscow is ‘unclear’ who is and who isn’t a terrorist, and while nominally ‘not opposing’ (and in fact supporting) Haftar’s efforts to clear out these terrorists – in such a paradoxical and frankly impossibly incoherent a way that it does so in coordination with Tripoli (!)

And so the picture is indeed, clear, all too clear.

Then, as predicted, three days later, forces loyal to the Government of National Unity announced a large scale operation against Haftar’s troops.

By the numbers? The clashes between the sides of this offensive have caused about 510 dead and 2,467 wounded so far, according to the World Health Organization.

After the overthrow and assassination of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, which Russia opposed but had not the internal political will to do much about, Libya ceased to function as a single State, and today a duality of powers reigns in the country in fact.

In the east, a Parliament elected by the people and supported by the Libyan National Army of Marshal Haftar is in session, while in the West, in Tripoli, the Government of National Unity, chaired by Fayez al Sarraj and recognized as legitimate by the UN Security Council.

So Russia acts as it needs to act, creating much needed fog in the information war, fog within which it can act towards its real aims and goals. The ways that Russia supports Haftar are indeed revealing about the ways of the world in general, and one which we are obligated to follow in detail.

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