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Russia-Ukraine war: Kyiv claims Libya's Haftar sending fighters to aid Russia

Eastern commander Khalifa Haftar reached agreement with the Kremlin on sending fighters to Ukraine during a recent visit to Moscow, Ukraine army says
Khalifa Haftar leaves Russia's foreign ministry during a visit to Moscow in November 2016 (AFP)

Ukraine's armed forces have claimed that Libya's eastern commander Khalifa Haftar has agreed to deploy Libyans to fight alongside Russia.

In a Facebook post, Ukraine's armed forces said Haftar made the agreement with the Kremlin during a visit to Moscow earlier this month, in which he promised to send Libyan "volunteers" to Ukraine "in order to participate in combat operations on the side of the Russian Federation”.

The fighters will reportedly be transported by Wagner, a Russian private military group with close links to the Kremlin which has sent mercenaries to fight in both Libya and Ukraine.

Such an agreement would be in keeping with Russian President Vladimir Putin's publicly stated plans to bring 16,000 volunteer fighters from the Middle East to the battlefield in Ukraine.

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On Monday, Haftar's self-styled Libyan National Army rubbished the claims, with Major General Khaled Mahjoub stressing that his forces have "nothing to do whatsoever with the Ukrainian war".

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the war in Syria, Russia has already drawn up a list of 40,000 Syrians to deploy to Ukraine to aid its invasion.

Advertisements that have been posted to private Facebook groups of the Syrian Fourth Armoured division have promised former soldiers a salary of $3,000 if they fight in Ukraine.

The statement from Ukraine's armed forces did not specify the salary for Libyan recruits or provide a time frame of the arrival. 

The head of US Central Command, General Frank McKenzie, who oversees US forces in the Middle East, told a Senate hearing on 15 March that the numbers of Syrians travelling to fight Ukraine appeared to be a "trickle".

"We believe that out of Syria there are perhaps small, small, very small groups of people trying to make their way to Ukraine," he said. "Right now it's a very small trickle.”

Haftar, who is backed by Russia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, has had his own forces bolstered by mercenaries from countries including Sudan, Chad and Russia.

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