Since Libya slipped into civil war in the summer of 2014, its politics have been characterised by byzantine complexity. The sheer number of local, regional and international actors involved makes a tangled web of animosities and alliances that has confounded casual observers and international negotiators alike. Among the panoply of local power brokers, however, Eastern Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar has increasingly emerged as impossible to ignore. No national power-sharing solution can survive if it excludes him. Now, Haftar looks poised to support a Russian bid for the leading role in the future of the oil-rich and strategically-located Mediterranean state.

Once a key figure in the Qadhafi regime, the 73-year-old Haftar is currently head of the so-called Libyan National Army (LNA) – which, in reality, is a powerful militia aligned with one of the three governments currently struggling for control of the country. In a clear signal of Russian support, Haftar was invited aboard the Admiral Kuznetsov, the sole remaining aircraft carrier in the Russian fleet, as the vessel entered Libyan territorial waters this month. Treated as a head of state might be, Haftar reviewed the ship before going on to discuss counter-terrorism policy via video-link with Russia’s defence minister, Sergei Shoigu. Read more