Hundreds of mercenaries linked to Russian military intelligence have been backing the self-styled army of warlord Khalifa Haftar in eastern Libya, The Telegraph has reported.

The British daily newspaper quoted Whitehall sources as saying that “private military company Wagner Group has been supporting Khalifa Haftar with 300 personnel in Benghazi and has supplied his army with artillery, tanks, drones and ammunition.”

“They are trying to secure the deep-water ports of Tobruk and Derna for the Russian Fleet and also could control the flow of oil to southern Europe if they take over Libya's energy industry”, the source added.

The Wagner Group is linked to Yevgeny Prigozhin (red-circled in photo), a businessman known as “Putin's chef” who was sanctioned by the United States after his online troll factory interfered in the 2016 election.

Prigozhin was filmed sitting at a table with Haftar and Russia's defence minister during talks in November. Flight tracking data showed a private jet linked to Prigozhin repeatedly came on the radar heading to or from Libyan airspace, most recently in January.

According to other western reports, Russia has set up two military bases in eastern Libya.