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BBC Investigation Exposes Extent Of Russian Mercenary Involvement In Libya

The list of weapons obtained by the BBC is said to point to the involvement of Dmitry Utkin, an ex-Russian military intelligence operative believed to have founded the group. (illustrative collage)

A journalistic investigation has brought new insights into the “key” role of a Russian military contractor in the civil war in Libya, including links to war crimes and Russia’s military.

The contents of a Samsung tablet left behind by an unidentified member of the Vagner Group after the contractor's fighters retreated from areas south of Tripoli in spring 2020 include frontline maps in Russian, the BBC said on August 11.

The British broadcaster said it also had acquired a “shopping list” of weapons and military equipment that was included in a document from January 2020. It mentions four tanks, hundreds of Kalashnikov rifles, a radar system, and other equipment that experts say could only have come from Russian military supplies.

An expert on the Vagner Group is quoted as saying the list pointed to the involvement of Dmitry Utkin, an ex-Russian military intelligence operative believed to have founded the group.

Vagner Group is believed to have indirect ties to Russia's political elite and to be controlled by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a close associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Both Prigozhin and Russian authorities have denied any involvement with Vagner.

Vagner Group first came to public attention in 2014 when it was backing pro-Russia separatists in the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

The group has since been involved in countries including Syria, Mozambique, Sudan, and the Central African Republic.

In April 2019, Vagner mercenaries joined the forces of a rebel Libyan general, Khalifa Haftar, after he launched an attack on the UN-backed government in the capital, Tripoli. The conflict ended in a cease-fire in October.

The BBC investigation managed to gain access to two former fighters with the notoriously secretive group who revealed details about the organization's lack of any code of conduct.

The investigation says one of the ex-members admitted to the killing of prisoners by members of the group.

"No one wants an extra mouth to feed," he is quoted as saying.

Contacted by the BBC, Prigozhin said through a spokesperson that he has no links to Vagner and had not heard of any violation of human rights in Libya by Russians. "I am sure that this is an absolute lie," he said.

The Russian Foreign Ministry told the broadcaster that the reports on Vagner's role in Libya are based on "rigged data" and were aimed at "discrediting Russia's policy" in Libya.

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