Russian Mercenaries Disrupt Operations at Libya’s Largest Oil Field

This week, Libyan diplomats called for sanctions on the Kremlin and on Russian mercenary forces working under the company, Wagner Group, who, on June 26, forcibly entered and disrupted operations at the El-Sharara oilfield (Libya’s largest oilfield accounting for one-third of the country’s oil output).  El-Sharara is controlled by Libya’s National Oil Corporation (NOC), which is operated by Libya’s UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA).  Wagner Group is allegedly operating in Libya in support of the opposition, the Libyan National Accord (LNA), that is led by General Haftar.  Russia, however, continues to deny that Russian mercenaries are deployed to Libya at all.

Although NOC is state-owned, the El-Sharara oil fields are located within the territory controlled by the LNA.  Libya earns the vast majority (approximately 95%) of its revenue from oil exports.  The LNA, with Russian support and financing, has sought to cut off the GNA from this source of revenue, despite an international agreement that protects the transport of oil by the NOC.  In April 2020, NOC reported  a 92% decrease in oil exports.

Russian mercenary intervention in the Libyan conflict is believed to be motivated by several factors, including the benefit that Russia sees in keeping Libyan oil off the market and the interest Wagner Group and their stakeholders see in establishing a position of influence over the country’s oil wealth.  The NOC has been outspoken in its opposition to Russia’s intervention in the country, accusing Moscow of exacerbating the GNA’s blockade activity directed at the LNA.

Although the Kremlin has consistently denied its role in the Wagner Group’s activities across conflict zones in Africa and the Middle East, a pattern of behavior by Wagner and other Russian military contractors suggests that they are typically deployed to reinforce Russian economic interests in these regions. The company’s widely speculated leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, also maintains close ties to President Putin.