General Khalifa Haftar, commander in the Libyan National Army (LNA), leaves after a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow, Russia, November 29, 2016. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
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A visit to a Russian aircraft carrier by Libya's Khalifa Haftar has given the eastern-based commander a symbolic boost while also signaling Moscow's interest in a greater role in the region following its intervention in Syria. Haftar is a figurehead for east Libyan factions who harbors national ambitions, and his renewed engagement with Russia comes at a time when the U.N.-supported government in Tripoli that he has shunned is once more in crisis.Russian support could embolden Haftar in making a play for power in Tripoli, a move likely to fuel conflict and represent a major setback for genuine unity government in Libya.Western states say the U.N.-backed Government of National Accord provides the best chance of reversing Libya's slide into anarchy and warfare.Russia did not use its U.N. Security Council veto to block the resolution authorizing military action, and Putin, who was out of presidential office at the time, took the risk of demonstrating a split in Russian leadership by publicly criticizing it.Russia has outwardly backed U.N. mediation in Libya, and says it will abide by an arms embargo on the country. Russia's support for Haftar appears to be mainly symbolic, said Karim Mezran, fellow at the Atlantic Council's Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, though that could change if Haftar tries to take Tripoli, as his opponents in western Libya fear he is actively preparing to do.
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