alleged Russian military activity raises concerns

While rumours continue to circulate, one thing seems clear: Russian aircraft have been seen on Djerba Island. [Getty]

Djerba Airport, a tourist haven in southeastern Tunisia, has recently been reported as the scene of an alleged unusual landing of Russian military aircraft, according to the Italian website La Repubblica.

On May 19, La Repubblica published an article titled “Russian Military Aircraft in Tunisia, US Alerts: ‘Moscow is Deploying’.” The article quoted an anonymous representative of the US State Department, who expressed concerns about Russian movements and presence in Tunisia.

“We continue to be concerned about Wagner’s activities, as well as those supported by Russia on the African continent, which fuel conflicts and promote irregular migration, including to Tunisia,” stated the representative.

The article suggests that equipment has been unloaded in Djerba, and personnel might be present there.

While Tunisian authorities have remained silent on the subject, Moscow denied the allegations on Monday in a statement issued by its embassy in Libya — not Tunisia — calling La Repubblica’s information “lies” and “fabrications.”

Tunisia has traditionally been aligned with the Western camp. However, the autocratic drift of President Kaïs Saïed, a frequent critic of the “dictates” of the West, creates a vulnerability to Moscow’s influence, speculate European analysts.

“There have indeed been rotations [of Russian planes in Djerba], but we do not know their nature,” noted a diplomatic source to the daily Le Monde.

Wagner or Vodka: Circulating theories

Theories on the suspicious events at Djerba airport have become a “culture de trottoir” in Tunisia for months. Some speculate it involves Wagner personnel, while others suggest it’s about vodka shipments.

According to some Tunisian analysts, these aircraft are believed to be “cargo planes” and civilian “charters,” not the military aircraft mentioned by La Repubblica.

Some sources claim that the aircraft transported Russians affiliated with the former security company Wagner (now “Africa Corps”), who came to rest on the island of Djerba. Others suggest they transported personnel and crates of vodka for Russian soldiers on leave in Tunisia.

A far more speculative hypothesis suggests that some aircraft might be transporting migrants to overwhelm Tunisia’s border crossing points, thereby creating a crisis.

Wagner’s presence in neighbouring Libya mainly fueled all these rumours.

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni first raised the question of a possible Russian presence in Tunisia during her official visit to the White House on 1 March. Meloni warned that if the International Monetary Fund did not provide Tunisia with the requested credits, the country risked falling under Russian influence.

“There are fears of the presence of ‘Wagner forces’ in the region facilitating the immigration process towards the Tunisian border,” said an Italian diplomatic source quoted by Jeune Afrique.

While rumours continue circulating, one thing may seem to be agreed on: Russian aircraft have been seen on Djerba Island.

President Kais Saied, known for publicly addressing rumours targeting his country, has refrained from commenting on the situation at Djerba airport.

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