A Moscow-based foundation with links to the Vagner Group, a Russian military contractor force, says three Russians and one Ukrainian national have been freed from captivity in Libya.
Aleksandr Malkevich, head of the Foundation for the Protection of Traditional Values, said on Telegram on January 2 that the four individuals had been “kidnapped” several weeks ago, but did not say why they were in Libya or who had allegedly detained them.
The foundation says it is a “a non-profit organization whose activities are aimed at protecting the national interests of the Russian Federation.”
Moscow has been accused of supporting mercenaries fighting against the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) in the Libyan capital, Tripoli. The GNA is vying for power against strongman Khalifa Haftar, who is supported by the United Arab Emirates, Russia, and Egypt.
The Vagner Group is believed to be headed by Russian businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, a close associate of President Vladimir Putin.
In October, the European Union and Britain hit Prigozhin with an asset freeze and travel ban over Russia’s role in Libya’s civil war.
Prigozhin “is engaged in and providing support” for the Vagner Group, threatening Libya’s “peace, stability, and security,” according to the bloc.
In December, the Foundation for the Protection of Traditional Values said two of its employees were released in Libya where they had been held since May 2019.
Malkevich said on December 10 that Russian citizens Maksim Shugalei and Samer Khasan Ali Sueifan had been released and would return to Moscow.
Libyan authorities said Shugalei, who is also a lawmaker in Russia’s northern Komi Republic, and his interpreter Sueifan, were arrested on suspicion of trying to influence elections in Libya, which Russian officials have denied.
Shugalei and the foundation are widely known to have links to the Internet Research Agency, a St. Petersburg-based organization known as the Russian “troll farm.”