In an apparent escalation of Russia's efforts to support Libya's General Khalifa Haftar in the ongoing struggle for power in the war-torn nation, Russia deployed troops in an Egyptian airbase in Sidi Barani, a small town in Western Egypt near the Libyan border, Reuters reports.
Egypt's security forces leaked confirmation of the claim and specified a 22-member Russian Special Forces Unit, but declined to comment on its mission. The source added that Russian Forces previously used another airbase in Mersa Matruh in February, which hasn't been reported on.
According to US officials who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity, the move could signal a beginning of Russian intervention in Libya in a bid to support Haftar, after his forces suffered an attack by the Islamist Benghazi Defence Brigades on March 3rd.
Egypt's army strongly denied the claim, asserting that Egypt doesn't compromise on matters of sovereignty. "There is no foreign soldiers from any foreign country on Egyptian soil. This is a matter of sovereignty," Egyptian army spokesman Tamer al-Rifai told Reuters.
Russia's army spokesman, in turn, denied the presence of any Russian forces in Sidi Barani, calling Western media news outlets "misleading," according to Russia Today.
Sidi Barani, which is a small town west of Mersa Matruh, is considered Egypt's second point of defence – after Saloum – across the country's western border.