TRIPOLI: Russia has withdrawn hundreds of allied Syrian fighters from Libya, as reports emerge of the Kremlin pulling out of some of its operations in the Middle East amid its ongoing invasion of Ukraine.
Arriving back into the country via Russia’s Kheimim Airbase in western Syria since the beginning of this month, the final batch of fighters are reported to have landed on Saturday.
According to the local Syrian opposition news outlet, hundreds of fighters from Syria recruited by Russia to fight in Libya over the past few years have been withdrawn from the country and returned to Syria. Furthermore, it added that no other fighters were deployed to Libya to replace the withdrawn forces.
Since at least 2020, Moscow has actively recruited fighters from Syria under its ally, the regime of Bashar Al-Assad, using them to assist the Russian-aligned former warlord, Khalifa Haftar, in the Libyan civil war. Rather than engaging in direct fighting, they are reported to have guarded sites and facilities under the control of Russian forces in the country.
That was until the ceasefire in Libya in 2020 and the official unification of the country the following year, following the UN-recognised government’s military defeat – with the help of Turkey and its own allied Syrian fighters – of the UAE-backed rival administration in the east, and the negotiations which resulted from that.
It is not yet clear why Moscow has decided not to replace the Syrian fighters with new recruits or forces, but some speculate that the reason could be the end of military conflict in Libya. Others, however, attribute it to the huge military losses Russia is suffering in its invasion of Ukraine, as it continues to attempt to take the capital, Kyiv, in the face of strong Ukrainian resistance.
According to figures released by the Ukrainian government’s, those Russian losses have amounted to over 11,000 troops so far, with hundreds of Russian military vehicles also having been destroyed or captured. Dozens of military aircraft have also reportedly been shot down by Ukrainian forces.
To add to that, Russia has been hit hard economically by heavy sanctions imposed by western nations, making it surpass Iran as the world’s most sanctioned country. That could potentially mean that the Kremlin is attempting to cut back on extra costs, which would also include the maintenance of Syrian fighters in Libya, who were reportedly being paid $700 per month.
There have also emerged reports that Moscow is recruiting Syrian fighters and mercenaries to fight on its side in Ukraine, particularly in order to use their experience in close urban combat. The report by Suwayda 24, however, said that the fighters who returned from Libya were not given any offers to be deployed to Ukraine.