Officials from Russia’s state arms exporter recently visited Haftar’s headquarters in the eastern city of al-Marj to discuss the deal and its implementation, a source close to the controversial general’s command told The New Arab on Thursday.
The source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that Vladislav Kuzmichev and Mikhail Zavali of Rosoboronexport signed a contract to provide 20 Russian warplanes – 10 Sukhoi Su-35, 4 10 Sukhoi Su-30 and 6 Yakovlev Yak-130 – as well as several Project 636 Kilo-class submarines and tanks and armoured vehicles.
Moscow has already begun to implement part of the deal related to providing spare parts for out of service Russian-made equipment and sending Russian technicians to help with maintenance, the source said.
Last week, Haftar, who is also backed by the Egyptian regime, visited a Russian aircraft carrier off the coast of Libya in the latest sign of growing relations with Moscow.
Haftar met Russian officers and crew before speaking by video link with Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu about counter-terrorism efforts in the Middle East, according to Russia’s defence ministry.
Haftar has been pushing for the United Nations to lift an arms embargo imposed on Libya and sought Russian support for the move during a visit to Moscow in November.
Asked at the time whether he was promised arms during the visit, Haftar said Moscow had told him weapons “can arrive only once the [UN] embargo ends”.
The source added: “It seems that Russia’s current interests have pushed it to finally approve activating a 2009 weapons deal… in return for permission to set up a naval base in east Libya. Russian officers inspected several locations in the east to assess their suitability for a naval base before Haftar boarded the ship.”
Ahmed al-Musmari, military spokesman for the Haftar’s forces, has said the 2009 deal worth $2.4 billion will be implemented after the embargo is lifted but denied that Haftar signed any further deals aboard the Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov.
Russia was one of the main suppliers of weapons to the Gaddafi regime, providing more than 2,000 tanks, 2,000 armoured fighting vehicles, 350 artillery weapons, dozens of ships and fleets of aircraft.
The Government of National Accord [GNA], based in Tripoli, is recognised by the international community.
But Haftar, the controversial head of the so-called Libyan National Army, supports a parallel authority, based in eastern Libya near the border with Egypt, that controls much of the country’s oil production.
The bitter divisions in the country are matched by those among the powers pushing for democracy in the conflict-torn country.
Western supporters of the GNA have prioritised the fight against Islamic State extremists and controlling migration flows from Libya towards Europe.
But another group including Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Russia see Haftar’s forces as the nucleus of a future military, and are suspicious of the Islamist clout in Tripoli.