Libya: Wagner Group’s logistics platform

Wagner delivering weapons to RSF from Libya

On April 13 at around 9:15 p.m. CET, Gerjon identified the TL-KPA aircraft over Cyprus on approach to Latakia airport in Syria, where Russian armed forces and Wagner group contingents are still stationed. According to satellite data that we were able to cross on Sentinel Hub, Planet and Maxar thanks to CNN, the Ilyushin 76 is the same plane then detected on the Al Khadim base in Libya on April 14, then on that of Jufra les April 15 and 16. He was untraceable on April 17 and reappeared in Syria and on the Libyan base of Al Khadim on April 18, then again in Al Jufra on April 19. The plane therefore performs a real rotation. According to information obtained by CNN, on April 17, 2023 the plane delivered weapons to the Rapid Support Forces, commanded by General Hemetti, whose real name is Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, a former Janjaweed leader who has become close to Russia since February 2023 during a meeting with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

The plane reportedly delivered the weapons to the FSRs at Camp Chevrolet, one of the most important logistical bases for Hemetti’s forces, located in Karab Toum near the Libyan border. Before being a military base, the Chevrolet camp had been launched by Hemetti in a political effort to show its credibility with European partners in the fight against illegal immigration. But behind the delivery of weapons from Libya hides a well-known actor: the Wagner Group. The Ilyushin 76 TL-KPA was previously registered as TL-KMZ, identified by several reports and analysts as belonging to the Wagner Group and used for rotations between the Central African Republic, Libya and Syria.

Present in Sudan since 2017, the Wagner Group has developed security activities there initially in support of Omar Bashir but also influence campaigns, economic activities by operating gold mines through its subsidiary Meroe Gold led by Mikhail Potepkin, and in connection with the Sudanese military forces. The Wagner group also provided security equipment found in areas under FSR control. In 2021 Facebook had also already removed account networks linked to Prigozhin’s Internet Research Agency supporting the FSRs and Hemetti.

Sudan has long been an important platform for the Wagner Group but also for Russia. In November 2020, Vladimir Putin announced the construction of a naval port in Port Sudan under Russian concession for 25 years. A second announcement indicates that Russia will supply arms to Sudan in exchange for this agreement and that more than 300 personnel will be there. The political situation in Sudan in 2022 puts this project on hold, one day before the invasion of Ukraine by Russia. On his return from Russia last February, Hemetti declared that he was in favor of this project with Russia.

The Libyan ambitions of Evgeny Prigozhin

Under the guise of expanding its diplomatic influence through Lev Dengov, the Wagner Group deployed to Libya in October 2018 to provide technical assistance to the Libyan National Army along with the supply of Russian weapons to the LNA. Very quickly he became part of an international alliance including the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Saudi Arabia supporting General Haftar and the Libyan National Army. The Pentagon published a report presenting the possibility that the United Arab Emirates would have financed the activities of the Wagner group and a logistics network. The Wagner Group took part in the LNA offensive on Tripoli in April 2019 and suffered casualties and injuries.

With approximately 2,000 staff in 2021, the Wagner Group has also recruited Syrians who have been transported via the logistics set up by the group from Syria. There, the group has been found guilty of laying anti-personnel mines in residential areas.

Beyond its military activities, the group has tried to position itself on energy assets in Libya and has also conducted influence campaigns for the benefit of Saif al-Islam Gaddafi. Two consultants from the Foundation for the Protection of National Values, Maxim Shugaley and Samer Sueyfan, in charge of leading Gaddafi’s political campaign, were arrested and imprisoned for espionage. Cyber influence operations have also been piloted by the Wagner Group to promote Gaddafi and Haftar.

A logistics platform to serve Russian ambitions

With the October 2020 ceasefire agreement between the parties in Libya, the Wagner group is not leaving but changing strategy and becoming rather a logistics platform at the service of Russian ambitions. As pressure mounts on the group, Wagner continues to control military bases like Al-Khadim, Jufra (used to deliver arms to the RSF in Sudan this week), Qardabiyah and Brak al-Shati. The group’s activities are even expanding with activities particularly in the south of the country and possible support for the Chadian FACT group.

Libya also serves as a platform for the rotation of teams, as has been seen for the entry into Mali but also the activities in the CAR or the sending of Syrian mercenaries to Ukraine.

But since January 2023, the only plane on the Al Khadim base available to ensure this logistics remains the TL-KPA because another went up in smoke inadvertently.

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