Libya PM heading to Moscow to seek better ties

Tripoli - The head of Libya's embattled unity government Fayez al-Sarraj will visit Moscow this week, a government source said on Monday, after a key rival sought to build ties with Russia.

A source from the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) said Sarraj would begin a visit to Moscow on Thursday, without providing further details.

The visit comes as Libya continues to be submerged in chaos, six years after the ouster and killing of longtime dictator Moammar Gaddafi in a NATO-backed armed uprising.

Sarraj's fragile GNA, formed under a UN-backed deal signed in late 2015, has struggled to impose its authority, particularly in eastern Libya where a rival administration holds sway.

Military strongman Khalifa Haftar is aligned with the rival administration and commands the self-proclaimed Libyan National Army which is battling jihadists and controls key oil export terminals.

In November Haftar travelled to Moscow to seek support for an end to a UN arms embargo and in January visited a Russian aircraft carrier off the coast of Libya.

Earlier this month, dozens of his fighters were flown to Russia for medical treatment.

Analysts believe that Russia, emboldened by its military success in Syria, is seeking a foothold in oil-rich Libya with support for Haftar.

On February 14 Russia tried to mediate a meeting between Sarraj and Haftar in Cairo, but the bid fell through.

Sarraj's visit also comes after Russian oil giant Rosneft and Libya's National Oil Corporation last week signed a deal to explore possible cooperation in various fields, including exploration and production.

Mattia Toaldo, senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said the agreement was "a good example of Russia's options in Libya".

"Russians could provide military support to Haftar but they would risk an indefinite escalation that would jeopardise their interests," said Toaldo.

"It is much more convenient for them to emphasise their political role as mediators between Sarraj and Haftar while deepening their business and military presence," he added.

Toaldo said he expected Sarraj to seek Russia's support for a review of the deal which paved the way for the GNA's creation.

The aim, he said, would be for Russia to persuade Haftar to support the GNA in exchange for a bigger role on the political scene.

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