MOSCOW (AP) — Two Russian citizens who had been held by the U.N.-backed government in Libya for more than 1 1/2 years on spying charges were released from captivity on Thursday, officials in Russia said.
Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said in remarks carried by the Interfax news agency that the men were on the way back home.
Bogdanov added that “it took a lot of efforts” to win the release of the two Russian citizens and thanked the Libyan authorities for their help. He said the two men were feeling fine.
Maxim Shugalei and Samir Seifan were detained in May 2019 by the U.N.-backed government in Tripoli on charges of espionage. They were working for a foundation allegedly linked to Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Kremlin-connected businessman whose assets reportedly include private security contractor Wagner Group that has been active in Libya.
Authorities in the Tripoli government have charged that the Wagner Group has deployed hundreds of fighters to back commander Khalifa Hifter, whose forces have been fighting the Tripoli government. Russian officials have refused to comment on the firm’s activities in Libya.
The official Facebook page of Tripoli-allied forces posted pictures of the two Russians holding what seemed to be the front page of a rights report documenting violations during the war on Tripoli. The page read: “The aggression on Tripoli: a year of crimes.”
Libya has been in turmoil since 2011, when a civil war toppled long-time dictator Moammar Gadhafi, who was later killed. The country has since split between rival administrations in the east and the west, each backed by armed groups.
Hifter’s forces backed by Egypt, France, Russia and the United Arab Emirates attempted to capture Tripoli in 2019, but their offensive was stopped by Tripoli-allied militias backed by Turkey. In October, the warring sides agreed to a U.N.-brokered cease-fire, a deal that envisioned the departure of foreign forces and mercenaries from Libya within three months.