By Aleksandr Kots – war correspondent of Komsomolskaya Pravda (KP), among the few journalists from the Russian media who is in Benghazi, reports from the war-torn country where havoc reigns for the past eight years .
The stone-colonnade of the Benghazi embankment – the eastern capital of Libya, which became opposition stronghold during the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 – is filled with the light of streetlights. My Libyan friend Ramzi specially suggested to meet here in the evening to show me the level of security on the street: one can walk until one’s heart’s content. In fact, I remembered this embankment as such, when I left Libya 8 years ago. Only then was it full of people with weapons, machine-gunning everywhere because of the excess of feelings and revolutionary significance. Along the road there were pickups that were loaded in such a way that Hollywood decorators would burn with an envy cat at the sight of such an invoice. Recoilless guns, helicopter pads under unguided rockets, and MLRS systems were installed on chassis …
The deafening holiday reigned in the city – the offensive of Gaddafi’s forces was disrupted by concerted “humanitarian bombings” of the NATO coalition, the traces of which stretched along the road to the West – to Tripoli – along the coast.Tens, if not hundreds of miles of burned equipment, among which I with surprise did not find any air-defense vehicle. The leader of Jamahiriya was surely about his success – a little longer, and he will crush the flower of democracy that sprouted through the asphalt with this stupid amount of equipment. He did not even think to cover the military against the air. The country was flooded with weapons, but nobody was able to fight with a serious opponent. And also did not plan to. But the West dragged through the UN Security Council a resolution of a “no-fly zone” over Libya (formerly Russia abstained, without using the veto), which in practice meant that no one could fly, except the combat aircraft of NATO.
Together with jubilation in 2011, on the territory of the opposition was launched a large-scale witch-hunt, which we, the journalists of KP who were taken prisoner, having been accused of espionage in the favor of Gaddafi, also fell victim to.Thanks to the lightning reaction of Russian authorities, we were quickly liberated. And before our departure we came to this embankment – to say goodbye to Benghazi, as it seemed, back then, for forever. The outcome of this war was obvious, and later we recorded it in Tripoli, when the capital fell under the storm, coordinated by the American special troops. A bit later in Sirte, the leader of Jamahiriya was sadistically executed. But the sun of liberties did not rise over the Libyan Desert, having plunged the country into long-term civil strife. And already on April 4th this year the Marshal Khalifa Haftar – the leader of the forces on the East to the country – declared a campaign to Tripoli – capital of the West.
Behind the back of Ramzi there are the skeletons of the destroyed buildings, which existed 8 years ago. Back then the war did not reach the city. But the militia was replaced by various terrorist groups – from Al-Qaeda to ISIS. And it was already necessary to be at war with them.
“But many opportunities appeared for us after Marshal Haftar cleared the territories,” said Ramzi in good English. “British and American schools were opened, we could finally leave for study abroad. The market for import goods was opened. Now I have my own bookstore and tea shop. By the way, tomorrow I will hold a day for free distribution of books, I want people to read more and learn about what happens outside Libya. In the past, our youth did not have such an opportunity. “
After 2011, the young Libyan society, not without mediation of the West, tried to build a democracy that all political groups were given the opportunity to take part in the work of the National Congress. As a result, the disputes of still recent nomads dragged on for two years, during which there were no attempts to create a normally functioning state and overcome splits. The “civilized world” [the Western world – ed] every time tries to try out alien templates to the Arab world.And every time it ends the same. And it is not important whether it is Iraq, Afghanistan, or Egypt. Sooner or later a more organized and aggressive force comes to power. And the murder of the American ambassador in their own residence in Benghazi was the apogee of the failure of Western politics in Libya – off this same Christopher Stephens, who with a smile, posed near the defeated body of Muammar Gaddafi. The Middle East does not appreciate it when others come to them and tell them what to do.
“The main disputes in the interim parliament turned around the constitution – who has the right to take part in its development, about women’s rights, and about the role of Islam and Sharia in thenew legal space,” I was told by orientalist Grigory Lukyanov , who has been to Libya more than once after the revolution and who observed the dynamics of the degradation of Libyan statehood. “They were resisted by those who supported if not a secular way of development, then for a more moderate one. But these disputes paralysed the work of state institutes, which still somehow functioned. And at the local communal level, people began to self-organize and provide for themselves defense and resources. In these conditions, something similar to the 2014 Civil Revolution began. “
Almost nothing was written about this in Russia. Why is this so?
Haftar’s supporters said that Islamists flooded the parliament and monopolized the process of preparing a constitution. Islamists, in response, accused the military of trying to usurp power and return Gaddafi’s government with Haftar at the head. As a result, both of them were able to accumulate strong support among youth groups. As a result of a battle in Tripoli, Haftar was forced to retreat to the East, to Tobruk. There, he created a temporary HQ of the new parliament, minus the participation of Muslim Brotherhood and Salafist groups. In Tripoli, the old parliament, which was updated at the expense of members of the same party, continued to function. Members of ISIS started to arrive on the territory of the country. With the mediation of the UN Mission it was ensured that Islamists who found themselves practically in isolation agreed to hold negotiations, the Skhirat peace agreements – under which the Government of National Accord was created – were signed. But the parliament in Tobruk – which was recognized by the way, by the UN – did not begin to build relations with them, having decided that it is a screen for Islamists.
As a result, there was a paradoxical situation. Khalifa Haftar controls the majority of the country, including the main oil and gas fields, and the profit from the sale of hydrocarbons is received by Tripoli through the National Libyan Bank. And in the country, the interests of world powers – in which East of the country is supported by France, Egypt and the Arab Emirates, and Turkey, Qatar and Italy – support the West of it – are intertwined. At the US, it looks at all of this from above waiting for the winner, feeding both sides.
I walk down the familiar small streets of Benghazi. The sparkling display windows of supermarkets are filled with import abundance – the country, besides oil, produces practically nothing. Car shows with the latest models of global auto makers. Little cafes with hookahs, colorful playgrounds with children who have not yet seen war … But if you turn in the neighboring quarter – there are broken roads, collapsed floor slabs of houses, rusty flattened cars, walls corroded by lead. The trouble that was stirred up by the West long raged, while it began to splash out of it. The terrorist groups, the trafficking of illegal immigrants to Europe, the smuggling of gold, the gangs of mercenaries from sub-Saharan Africa … It was necessary to wait until this soup to reach a vapor to try to cool the cauldron radiating with heat.
And people in Libya, apparently, very much count on the support of Russia. Representatives of both warring parties began to come to Moscow often, in local press, the authorities call us to more actively join the process of resolving the conflict peacefully … Against the background of the unpredictable policy of Washington, Moscow, with its responsible and consistent approach, really looks to be more important. But officially Russia remains neutral, diplomatically urging opponents to sit down at the negotiating table.
“My 75-year-old mother, when shes sees on TV that Haftar is in Russia, rejoices, her tears flow,” confessed the General of the Libyan National Army Nazir to me in fluent Russian. “She very much hopes that you will help us. In the military sphere – it can be a weapon. We like to work with Russian weapons. Russia as a supplier of air-defense, an Air Force, and a fleet can play a huge role. Half of our officers studied in Russia. And in the civil sphere Moscow can help us with the construction of railroads, with improvement of the system of public transport in cities and between them. Russia can also participate in oil and gas affairs, in the construction of a road network. Your medicine is also very well known here … “
General Nazir studied at first in Odessa, having graduated from the engineering faculty. Then for eight months he studied in Minsk, in the air defense academy. He has two diplomas of a military translator, he adores Russian literature and has an unusual hobby. In his spare time he translates Pushkin into Arabic.
I spoke to a teacher named Lyubov Somakhina, she said: “Nazir, you have a good voice, you can be an actor” . She gave me two poems of Pushkin to learn. And during different holidays in school, I read them from a stage. Since then she has told me all the time: “Read Pushkin, Nazir, and try to translate it into Arab” . This is a very interesting, but very difficult hobby.
As befits a General of the Libyan National Army, he is idolizing his commander-in-chief – Khalifa Haftar. A personality that is as charismatic as it is contradictory. The former officer of Gaddafi, who was the leader of Jamahiriya, relinquished when the latter was taken prisoner during the Libyan-Chad war. The French paid a ransom for Haftar and transferred him to the Americans. After this, the future leader of Benghazi lived in the US for more than 20 years. There are rumors that he worked for the CIA, but nobody saw the registration form of Langley. Anyway, it’s exactly thanks to him that the East of the country was freed of terrorist shackles.
At the same time, his visits to Moscow can hardly be regarded as a tribute of politeness to the main ally. As the real Eastern Governor, he skillfully maneuvers between different forces in his interests. It is said that he, playing dumb, answered the Americans in response to the accusations of cooperation with Russia: “Well you cooperate with Israel. Grant me also the right to deal with what I consider to be necessary. “ His opponent in the West of the country – Fayez al-Sarraj of the GNA – does not have either a military past or a rigid character so valued in Libya. But he has the support of Ankara and Doha, and armed groups, including radical ones.
“We were deceived. We wanted the Libyan state to become democratic. But it turned out that today Islamists from different countries of the world head Libya in Tripoli, “ said General Nazir. “Before this they were in Benghazi. They destroyed our houses, especially the officers’ ones. There were militants from all over the planet – from Iraq, from Syria, from Lebanon, from Bosnia and from Yemen. Only thanks to Haftar we were able to bring together a new army. And to expel them from our houses. “
Do you think that people in Tripoli want the same thing?
“Now people understand that there is a need for a strong army, strong police, strong intelligence agencies … Only with these components will there be peace. I have many police friends in Tripoli. We try to speak Russian so that we are not eavesdropped by militants. They almost do not leave their apartments. They are called to work in uniform only when the TV has to film them.They show them on TV like saying ‘yes, there is an army’, but after filming they are sent home and power is again taken by groups of Islamists. People are afraid to contradict them. As my friends describe, if our army will make two steps into the capital, then all the people will come out to support it. “
And what will be after the capture of Tripoli?
“My personal opinion is that three-four years of military management are necessary in order for the country to have stability.There is a need for a military person who will bring order, who will clean the dirt and restore the law. “