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Is Fathi Bashagha’s op-ed in The Times fake news? “Libya wants to stand with Britain against Russian aggression,” he wrote in his diatribe against Russia, which was published on the British newspaper’s website on 3 May. The Tobruk parliament’s prime minister did not hold back his insults toward Vladimir Putin.
Drawing parallels between Ukraine and Libya, he condemned President Putin for his involvement in bringing “thousands of Wagner mercenaries […] into [his] country, leaving a wake of destruction”.
In his article, Bashagha asked for “Britain’s support”, explaining that “if you want a partner in Africa to push Russia out, then my government is ready to work with you.” These words strongly resonated in Libya and abroad.
However, Bashagha’s media offensive, in which he presented himself as a bulwark against Wagner, only lasted a few hours. The next day, he tweeted that he had not written this text and asked The Times to investigate the matter, to avoid publishing “fake news”.
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Still, one cannot assume that this is the result of a change of heart. For its part, The Times editorial staff is adamant. A spokesman for the British newspaper told us that “we stand by our publishing of this article” and “Fathi Bashagha’s staff have confirmed to us it is accurate.”
Nevertheless, the prime minister’s communication team continues to play both sides. Although it has not confirmed that Bachagha is the author of this text, it has half-heartedly reminded us that the position on Russia remains that of the prime minister. At the same time, it also says that the prime minister’s Twitter account may have been hacked. However, three days have passed and the tweet has still not been deleted from Bashagha’s account and no new comments have been made about it.
A failed seduction operation
According to several observers, Bashagha had to backtrack following pressure from the clan of Khalifa Haftar, his former enemy-turned-ally. Russia is one of General Haftar’s sponsors, which means that the Tobruk prime minister finds himself in quite a predicament.
Moscow supports the marshal in the eastern part of the country via the Russian paramilitary company Wagner. Thanks to these mercenaries, he can maintain his positions in the strategic oil crescent and ensure his safety. Wagner blocked the counter-offensive led by the Government of National Accord (GNA) forces against Haftar during the summer of 2020, thus preventing the marshal’s forces from collapsing.
Abroad, however, Bashagha’s Moscow connection has become less acceptable since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. With this platform, the Tobruk prime minister was hoping to satisfy Washington and the international community’s expectations, but this aborted attempt to gain ground in the West illustrates the prime minister’s limited room for manoeuvre in the face of an inconvenient ally.
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