Pictures circulating on social media suggest Russia may have deployed its S-400 air defence system in Libya, an analyst writing for Forbes said on Thursday.
Images posted online appear to show a large radar and vertical missile tubes near Ras Lanuf in eastern Libya. If they are part of Russia’s S-300 or S-400 system, “it could help tip the scales in the favour of Russia and its local allies against Turkish-backed forces,” defence analyst H I Sutton said.
Russia is supporting rebel General Khalifa Haftar’s eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA) in its fight against the Turkish-backed, United Nations-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA), which is based in Libya’s capital city of Tripoli.
Sutton said S-300s or S-400s would seriously hamper Turkish drones, which have scored notable successes against Russian made air defences and helped the GNA win a string of major battlefield victories over the past few months.
The GNA has said it now intends to take the coastal city of Sirte, a strategically important gateway to Libya’s oilfields, and the central al Jufra air base – both currently controlled by forces allied to the LNA.
“The Russians have quietly signalled that Sirte and al Jufra are a red line, even though they have not gone as far as other countries in terms of public statements,” Aaron Stein, director of research at the Philadelphia-based Foreign Policy Research Institute, told Sutton.
Russia has deployed similar systems, including the S-400, to protect its assets in Syria.
“They appear to have taken a page out of their Syria playbook, which is to send a mixed squadron and to augment air defence assets in the country. The S-300, if it is real, joins the Pantsir S-1 short range system. Together they would make Turkey think about testing that red line,” Stein said.
Sutton said it was ironic that the the S-400 system is exactly what Russia has sold Turkey.
It led the United States to expel Turkey from NATO’s F-35 fighter jet development programme in July 2019. The United States says the S-400s are not compatible with NATO’s defence systems.