A visit to a Russian aircraft carrier by Libya’s Khalifa Haftar has given the eastern–based commander a symbolic boost while also signaling Moscow’s interest in a greater role in the region following its intervention in Syria.

Haftar is a figurehead for east Libyan factions who harbors national ambitions, and his renewed engagement with Russia comes at a time when the U.N.-supported government in Tripoli that he has shunned is once more in crisis.

Russian support could embolden Haftar in making a play for power in Tripoli, a move likely to fuel conflict and represent a major setback for genuine unity government in Libya.

Western states say the U.N.-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) provides the best chance of reversing Libya’s slide into anarchy and warfare.

But as splits and resistance have weakened the GNA in the capital, Haftar has gained momentum in the east, with support from foreign allies who back his fight against Islamist groups.

He enjoys close ties to Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, and has cultivated his friendship with Russia, visiting Moscow twice last year to ask for help in his anti-Islamist campaign.

 

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