As Libya's rival governments vie for control of the country, the House of Representatives got a welcome boost. Early Jan. 11, Field Marshal Khalifa Hifter's Libyan National Army set up roadblocks across the city of Tobruk, where the House of Representatives is based. News quickly spread that Hifter's forces, which support the Tobruk-based government led by Aguila Saleh Issa, had locked down the city in anticipation of a visit from high-ranking Russian military officials. Though Russian naval officers were later spotted in Tobruk itself, the visit's main event took place aboard the Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov, where Hifter held a video conference with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. Contrary to rumors, the meeting did not produce announcements of a counterterrorism alliance between Russia and Libya. Instead, it was a symbolic show of support for the House of Representatives and a demonstration of Russia's diplomatic clout.
In the days leading up to the visit, Russian warships had been conducting exercises in Libyan waters. The exercises, coordinated with the government in Tobruk, lent the House of Representatives significant legitimacy by presenting it as the body in charge of Libya's military operations. The country's other competing governments — the General National Congress and the internationally recognized Government of National Accord — have been working to increase their own legitimacy in similar ways. The General National Congress, for instance, benefited from Italy's recent announcement that it would reopen its embassy in Tripoli, the government's base.
For the House of Representatives, the Russian delegation's visit is an important step toward establishing itself as Libya's rightful government. The Admiral Kuznetsov departed from the Syrian coast just days ago to return to its home port in Sevastopol, and its visit was a significant display of Russia's support for the government in Tobruk. For Moscow, meanwhile, the junket advances Russia's image as a global actor — one that the United States cannot ignore or discount in its foreign policy. Furthermore, by showcasing its relations with Hifter and the House of Representatives, Moscow demonstrated its influence in Libya.