Tabnak - Since the very beginning of Russia’s military operation in Syria in September 2015, serious debates raised on Moscow’s ultimate goals in the Middle East and whether it wants to have a greater and enduring role in the region. Some recent reports on Russia’s military plans in Libya and Egypt have further provoked the speculations in this regard.
Earlier Tuesday, some international media cited American and Egyptian diplomatic sources, reporting that Russia has deployed Special Forces to an airbase in western Egypt; a move that could be interpreted as a sign of Moscow’s intention to play a more active role in neighboring Libya.
British newspaper "Independent” wrote in a story that the US and diplomatic officials had said any such Russian deployment might be part of a bid to support Libyan military commander Khalifa Haftar, who suffered a setback with an attack on March 3 by the Benghazi Defense Brigades (BDB) on oil ports controlled by his forces.
The newspaper quoted the unnamed US officials as saying that the United States had observed what appeared to be Russian special operations forces and drones at Sidi Barrani, about 60 miles (100 km) from the Egypt-Libya border.
Egyptian security sources offered more details, describing a 22-member Russian Special Forces unit, but declined to discuss its mission. They added that Russia also used another Egyptian base farther east in Marsa Matrouh in early February.
Hours after many similar reports filled the Western media, Russia’s Defense Ministry Spokesman Igor Konashenkov denied the reports, saying that there are no Russian special forces in Egypt.
"Western media outlets have been stirring up the public with such info leaks from anonymous sources already not for the first year. Such ‘insights’ especially frequently visit anonymous sources in Ukraine and the Baltic states. And the words by Reuters about the U.S. intelligence services, citing the same source saying that ‘the U.S. intelligence on Russian military activities is often complicated by its use of contractors or forces without uniforms’ look especially silly and indecent," the spokesman said.
However, in a more recent report "CNN” writes that the US officials firmly believe in the existence of a negative intention by Russia in the region and have warned that Moscow is probably providing the grounds for an intervention in Libya.
According to CNN, there was some open discussion of this at the Senate Armed Services Committee last week, when the four-star head of Africa Command acknowledged the US believes Russia is trying to manipulate the political outcome in Libya.
General Thomas D. Waldhauser testified: "Russia is trying to exert influence on the ultimate decision of who becomes and what entity becomes in charge of the government inside Libya. They're working to influence that -- that the decision."
Sen. Lindsey Graham then asked about the Russians: "They're trying to do in Libya what they've been doing in Syria?" Waldhauser answered: "Yes, that's a good way to characterize it."
All in all, it seems that the US is really concerned over Russia’s growing influence and foothold in the Middle East and is trying to have a clear assessment of the situation, so that the Russian won’t pass any more redlines in the region in cost of the US. However, it is still unclear to what extent the US is ready to "reengage” in the Middle East’s hottest crises in order to balance Moscow.