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US threatens sanctions on warlord Haftar over oil blockade, links to Russia

US officials have revealed that Washington has threatened warlord Khalifa Haftar with sanctions over his refusal to reopen oil exports, which the US has described it as being a decision made under Russian influence.

Wall Street Journal said warlord Haftar initially let ports reopen but changed his mind when Wagner Group forces moved to the Es Sider terminal, according to Libyan and European officials.

“The State Department communicated the threat of sanctions to Haftar because he was being ridiculous and uncompromising with oil installations in eastern Libya,” Wall Street Jounral cited a US official as saying.

Without naming anyone, the US Embassy in Libya tweeted July 13 that “those who undermine Libya’s economy and cling to military escalation will face isolation and risk of sanctions.”

Meanwhile, US officials hope sanctions could force Haftar, who is a US citizen as well as Libyan and a former CIA asset who used to live in exile in Virginia, to find an understanding with his Tripoli rivals and sever his ties with Russia.

According to US property records, Haftar owns a $185,000 ranch and a $364,000 condo in Virginia, making him vulnerable to US sanctions, WSJ said.

“The Russians are doing things that are bolder and bolder,” said Jason Pack, president of U.S.-based consulting firm Libya-Analysis LLC.

Wall Street Journal added that recent Russian oil grab in Libya triggered a stern reaction by the US Treasury Department, which cited Russian involvement in Libya in a new round of sanctions applied in July to a Russian businessman with ties to President Vladimir Putin.

“Now, US officials are concerned that the Russian mercenaries have shifted their focus to taking control of Libya’s oil industry after Wagner Group gunmen have moved into the Sharara oil field in the country’s south.

On July 15, the US Treasury expanded its sanctions on entities owned by Prigozhin – Wagner Group’s owner, citing in part their involvement in the conflict in Libya.

“Our intelligence reflects continued and unhelpful involvement by Russia and the Wagner Group,” Rear Admiral Heidi Berg, Africom’s director of intelligence, wrote on Twitter.

“Each of Libya’s three historical provinces has the right to equal opportunities to receive income from the use of oil resources,” a spokeswoman for Russia’s foreign ministry tweeted Tuesday.

Wall Street Journal said Wagner’s Russian mercenaries now hold sway on key export flows to Europe and assets partly owned by major Western oil companies, as Sharara is run by Spain’s Repsol SA while Es Sider is the international gateway for nearby fields partly owned by US companies Hess Corp. and ConocoPhillips Co.

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