"In Libya, we do not want to be associated with either side of the conflict"
The newspaper Kommersant published an interesting interview with the head of the Russian contact group on Libya, Lev Dengov.
The authorities of the Russian Federation have recently stepped up their policy in the Libyan direction, while delegations from the opposing Libyan parties have frequented visits to Moscow. The head of the Russian contact group for the intra-Libyan settlement at the Russian Foreign Ministry and the State Duma, an assistant to the head of the Chechen republic, Lev Dengov, told Kommersant what goals Moscow pursues in this region and on whom it stakes.
- About the contact group for Libya, which you are heading, almost nothing is known. Here, for example, the contact group for Ukraine - everyone knows about it. And here is the veil of secrecy. What exactly do you do, what goals do you pursue?
- Contact group was established on the initiative of the Russian Foreign Ministry and the State Duma. Its activities are supervised by Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Mikhail Bogdanov and Adam Delimkhanov (Duma deputy from Chechnya.- "Kommersant"). The latter is authorized to work on the Libyan direction by the Speaker of the State Duma Vyacheslav Volodin. The impetus for the formation of the group was the detention in Libya of the Russian tanker "Mechanic Chebotarev" (in September 2015, there were 11 people on board.-Kommersant). We thought about how to help the crew. Then a contact group was created from military experts, representatives of the State Duma, our work was supported by the head of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov.
- And how did it happen that it was you who headed it?
- Since I've been working for Libya since 2008, I was asked to lead the work of the group. Our activities were not limited to the release of sailors from the Chebotarev Mechanics. We managed to establish contacts with representatives of all the main groups opposing each other in the Libyan conflict - and from Tripoli (where the UN-led government headed by Fayz Sarad is based) and Tobruk (the residence of the parliament that opposes the government and Supports Marshal Khalifa Haftar, who controls the eastern regions of Libya. "Kommersant"). Thanks to the active participation of Ahmet Metig (Deputy Prime Minister of Libya - "Kommersant"), we managed to quickly agree on the release of Russian sailors.
Then it was decided to use these contacts more effectively, to create a contact group. Its task is to analyze the situation, identify key factors and players, and dialogue with all parties to the conflict. I want to emphasize especially: in Libya, we do not want to be associated with either side of the conflict, we are in dialogue with everyone.
- How many people are in the contact group and how many of them are permanently in Libya?
- Now there are five people in the contact group. Among them there are people who have experience working in law enforcement agencies, including the Ministry of Defense. We also want to introduce a group of specialists in the region, experts in oriental studies. No one is permanently in Libya from our employees, there is no need for this yet.
- Is there now in Libya Russian military advisers, instructors. And if so, on which side?
- There are no Russian military specialists in Libya. All conversations and publications about this do not correspond to reality.
"But your former military personnel are part of your contact group ..."
- Yes, and their presence is necessary. For example, when we visit hot spots. Or such closed cities as Misurata (where militia units are based, which played a role in the overthrow of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 and which became noticeably more active in the following years). We arrived in Misurata in January this year. We were frightened, they said that there were all Islamists, terrorists. But it was important for us to assess the situation there ourselves, to analyze the real military potential, who is responsible for what, why such rumors go, what is really the role of Islamists there. In Misurata, we met with all the representatives of the detachments that were engaged in the destruction of the IG in Sirte (in December 2016 this city on the Mediterranean coast was repulsed from the militants of the banned in Russia "Islamic state" - "b"). We wanted to see them, get to know these people, check the information that they played the decisive role in destroying the IG in Libya, and not Khalifa Haftar, who attributed these merits to himself.
- And to what conclusion did you come? The "Islamic state" in Libya was not won by Haftar?
"It was not he who did it. Haftar conducted operations on a different front, in Benghazi. And with the IG in Sirte, the structures that were subordinate to the government in Tripoli were fighting. And by the way, we invited people to Russia who conducted this anti-terrorist operation. And they arrived - the visit lasted from April 19 to 23 this year, the Libyan delegation was received by the Federation Council, the Duma, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Rosgvardia.
- You, as we understand, are in all Libyan regions and probably imagine the mood of local elites and field commanders. Do you think that it will be possible to implement the ceasefire agreements and the elections that Khalifa Haftar and Faye Saradj achieved in Paris in late July? Or again, as has happened many times in the past, the agreements will be disrupted, the fighting will resume, the parties will try to seize power solely?
- For us, a good signal was the fact that Saraj and Haftar agreed to the next meeting, not so long ago it was impossible. In the recent past, both leaders have spoken extremely negatively about each other.
As for the position of Russia ... They often write and say that Moscow actively supports Haftor, many believe it. We were faced with this situation when we were in Misurata, and Haftar was on this day on board the Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov. It was a coincidence. But in Misurata they did not believe in coincidence. We were told: "You must be very brave people that you came to us just today." But our task is just to show: we do not support only Haftar, we are in dialogue with all the key players in the conflict in Libya.
- You communicate with Haftar. Does mutual understanding with Russian partners facilitate the fact that he studied twice in the USSR on a human, emotional level? And, by the way, does Haftar know the Russian language?
- Russian, if he does, he is very relative. But the fact that he studied with us, of course, facilitates a dialogue with him. And by the way not only with him. When we communicate with the military in Tripoli and Misurata, we meet generals who studied either in Russia or in the Soviet Union. And now they perfectly speak Russian. And they are drawn to Russia, to some extent they feel nostalgia for it.
- Do you think that the imminent lifting of the arms embargo imposed on Libya is likely? Are your Libyan interlocutors interested in the supply of Russian weapons?
"They are interested, of course, but, as I said, we do not occupy someone's side in this conflict and do not want to arm one to the detriment of others. We would like everyone to be in approximately equal positions.
As for the arms embargo, the Libyan people constantly call for Russia to somehow contribute to its lifting.
Now the process of drafting the constitution is actively being promoted in Libya. We hope that the parties will reach compromise solutions, achieve an internal consensus. Then elections must take place, as discussed at the meeting of Saraj and Haftar. If elections are held and legitimacy is finally elected (and now neither side has such a status), then it is possible to raise the issue of lifting the arms embargo in the UN Security Council. To raise this issue is now meaningless and dangerous, this will only lead to an escalation of the conflict.
- Recently, the media reported that Italy, faced with the problem of African refugees floating from Libya, feels abandoned to the mercy of fate by EU allies. Can Moscow in this situation help Italian partners, using their connections with the Libyans? How feasible, for example, is the option that Haftar detachments will establish control over the coast and put an end to the smuggling business of smuggling immigrants to Europe?
- Very timely question. We are actively working on this. The Italians need Russia's support, because Moscow is in dialogue with Haftar, Saraj, Misurata and the south of the country. And in this issue the tribes in the south of Libya play an important role, and they are ready to cooperate with Russia.
- It is a question of that, that southerners stopped streams of migrants on distant approaches? That is, relatively speaking, deployed back buses, in which Nigerian migrants are traveling?
- We achieve this. But it's not easy. Some clans and groups are interested in keeping these streams going. We hope to help to unite the southerners in the negotiation process between Saraj, Haftar and the tribes in the south. But first, we would like to see a unity of opinion on this issue between Haftar and Saraj.
- The head of government in Tripoli, Faiz Saraj is considered an Islamist, a supporter of the introduction of Sharia in the country. How much of a radical opinion does he hold? Will this not be an obstacle in building relations with Russia or the West?
- I will express my personal opinion about him. In my opinion, he is, on the contrary, an opponent of radical Islam.
- But the Islamists are in his coalition.
- Yes, but he himself adheres to the position that Libya should be absolutely normal country - moderately Islamic, open world. And he is also actively fighting terrorists.
"Why does he have such a reputation?"
- It was created by those countries that are not interested in Russia communicating with Tripoli. Tripoli is the capital, there is legislative, executive and judicial power. There the national oil corporation, the national bank and other state structures. Of course, some countries were interested in that we did not go there. And we mixed all the maps, and began to actively communicate with Tripoli, and with Tobruk. And we are already reaping the fruits of this work: Rosneft has entered into an agreement on cooperation with the state oil company of Libya - NOC. Director of NOC Mustafa Sanalla, with whom the head of Rosneft Igor Sechin made a deal, himself directly from Tripoli. And two weeks ago, the first shipment of Libyan oil to Rosneft
- What will Russia do with it?
- I believe that reselling.
- And what are the economic interests of Russia in Libya?
- The plans to re-sign the contracts concluded under Muammar Gaddafi. This includes, in particular, previous agreements in the transport sector (construction of railways), energy (electrification), and a number of others.
- And the Libyans have something to pay?
"Well, they also have oil."
- That is, as in the case with Iran, the speech is about the scheme "oil in exchange for services"?
- I do not know what the scheme will be, I do not deal with these issues directly.
In fact, the economy for Russia in Libya is not the main thing. We are, in fact, engaged in peacekeeping work. For us, the main thing is to stop the bloodshed, help the Libyans to agree among themselves so that they can establish order and Libya ceases to be a favorable environment for the development of terrorism. For Russia, this is the main task - to help the Libyan people and extort terrorists from there.
- Do you have information about the presence in Libya (now or earlier) of radical militants from Russia or other countries of the former USSR?
"One of the tasks of our contact group was to find out. I met with a representative of the Libyan Committee of State Security, who said that today there are not a single immigrant from Russia and other countries of the former USSR. He said that he has about 50 thousand telephone conversations of representatives of Islamist and radical groups (in Libya.- "Kommersant") and the Russian speech does not sound there.
- And from what states then these insurgents?
"I would not want to go into these details."
- Then we formulate the question differently. How many among the militant Islamists in Libya are the Libyans themselves?
- There are practically no Libyans among them, they are no more than 5%. The rest are alien.
- Can Moscow conduct an intra-Libyan negotiations following the example of Paris?
- There are such plans. We are conducting active negotiations with the Libyans, several delegations from Libya have already visited Moscow, and declared their readiness to come again - to Moscow or to Grozny.
- And when can such negotiations take place?
- Now it's hard to say. There are still several visits, and then, I hope, there will be clarity about the time and place of the talks.