New Russian University of Spetsnaz director; Moldova blocks Wagner suspect; changes to terrorism legislation

Threatologist Eurasia is a free weekly newsletter covering security threats -- to the state and from the state -- across Russia and Eurasia. It keeps you informed about important developments related to terrorism and insurgency, private military companies and semi-state security forces.

 

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This week's main stories:

  • New director of Russian University of Spetsnaz appointed
  • Moldovan border guards block possible Wagner member
  • Further amendments to terrorism legislation
New director of Russian University of Spetsnaz appointed

The Russian University of Spetsnaz (RUS) has appointed Abdula Akhmadov as its new director (Kavkaz Realii, 9 March). RUS is based in Chechnya’s Gudermes, supported by Chechen Head Ramzan Kadyrov, and has been training volunteers for participation in Russia’s war in Ukraine. 

 

Kavkaz Realii has reported that the Unified State Registry of Legal Entities has been updated to reflect Akhmadov’s new role. Akhmadov also heads the Republican Management Company (RMC) joint-stock enterprise. Kavkaz Realii notes that there is limited open-source information available on Akhmadov, beyond him appearing as registered owner of several Chechnya-based companies.

 

Akhmadov’s predecessor, both at RUS and RMC, was Aleksey Chudan. Chudan occupied the former role since RUS’ founding in July 2017. He also heads the sports organisation the Target Shooting Federation.

 

The change of directors probably has little practical consequence. Novaya Gazeta’s Yelena Milashina has argued that, while RUS was originally designed to train Chechen security service personnel, it has long become a commercial enterprise (Novaya Gazeta, 29 September 2022). Thus, the real control and revenue of RUS belongs elsewhere. Kadyrov claimed in January that in 2022 RUS helped train more than 6,000 members of the Chechen security services and Russian Defence Ministry, as well as more than 10,000 volunteers from across the country (Telegram, 22 January).

Moldovan border guards block possible Wagner member

Moldova’s border police reported that 182 foreign nationals had been denied entry to Moldova in a week, including a “possible representative” of the Russian Private Military Company (PMC) Wagner. The report comes in the context of allegations that Russia is trying to foment unrest in the country (AP, 12 March).

 

A group calling itself Movement for the People has organised a series of protests in the country against a government that is seen as pro-Western, ostensibly over high energy prices and Moldova’s policy toward the war in Ukraine. The group is backed, in turn, by Shor — a party that AP characterises as “Russia-friendly” and that holds six of 101 parliamentary seats. Shor’s leader, Ilan Shor, is an oligarch now based in Israel who has been sanctioned by the United States and United Kingdom for his pro-Russian activities. The head of Moldova’s police, Viorel Cernauteanu, has claimed that some Russian citizens in the country had been promised $10,000 to organise “mass disorder” during the latest protest in the capital, Chisinau. 

 

Concerns about Russian activities in the country may be genuine. At this stage, however, any claim that Wagner is playing a significant role requires more evidence than has been offered by these latest media reports — consisting, as they do, of a single person whose membership of the group is unconfirmed and who did not even make it into the country.

Further amendments to terrorism legislation

Russia’s State Duma has adopted at the third reading legislative amendments to the laws on spreading fake news and discrediting the army. These changes make it difficult to legally publish non-official information on substate actors operating alongside the military, such as Wagner (Nastoyashcheye Vremya, 14 March).

 

The proposed changes were detailed in the last edition of Threatologist Eurasia. According to the State Duma, those found guilty of discrediting participants of the “special military operation” will face escalating penalties. For a first offence, individuals and legal persons will face fines of up to R50,000 and R500,000 respectively, under the Code on Administrative Offences. Subsequent offences will become a criminal matter, with a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison and a R5m fine (State Duma, 14 March).

 

Meanwhile, another legislative proposal has been submitted that will introduce criminal liability for failures to comply with antiterrorism security provisions at facilities (RAPSI, 14 March). The proposal, which will amend Article 217.3 of the Criminal Code, will punish negligence that results in serious injury, death, or damage exceeding R1m with up to seven years in prison. Similar criminal liability already exists for violations at fuel and energy facilities.

Other stories of interest
  • New graves holding Wagner members found across Krasnodar Kray and Adygea (Kavkaz Realii, 8 March).
  • European Union General Court annuls sanctions against Wagner owner Yevgeniy Prigozhin’s mother, Violetta Prigozhina. The court found that there was insufficient evidence of links between Violetta and Wagner (Reuters, 8 March).
  • UN expert group expresses concern over Wagner’s prison recruitment efforts, highlighting reports of threats and mistreatment and noting that “States have an obligation to prohibit private individuals and companies from exploiting the vulnerability of prisoners for profit” (Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights, 10 March).
  • Prigozhin claims that Wagner has opened recruitment centres in 42 Russian cities, with attention focused on sports centres and martial art clubs (The Moscow Times, 10 March).  Last week’s Threatologist Eurasia reported on the opening of three such recruitment points at Russian sports clubs.
  • Prigozhin also announces goal of turning Wagner into an “army with an ideology.” He was predictably light on substance as to what that actually means (Reuters, 12 March).
  • Three men convicted by court in Tatarstan for membership of Nurdzhular. They received sentences of between one and a half years suspended to two and a half years in prison (Mediazona, 13 March).
  • Lithuania’s parliament, the Seimas, has unanimously ruled to classify Wagner as a terrorist organisation (Nastoyashcheye Vremya, 14 March). It becomes the first state to do so, although others have declared it a transnational criminal organisation 
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