A Crimean PMC that is older than suspected; former official sentenced over attack on Volgograd governor's house

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.


If you find this newsletter useful, please tell a friend about it! If someone has forwarded this newsletter to you, you can subscribe at Threatologist.com.

This week's main stories:

  • Head of Crimea establishes own PMC. Or not
  • Two sentenced over attack on Volgograd governor’s house
Head of Crimea establishes own PMC. Or not

Vazhnyye istorii has published a detailed report claiming that Sergey Aksenov, the head of Russian-occupied Crimea, has established his own Private Military Company (PMC), which goes by the name of Konvoy and is led by a seasoned commander of the Wagner PMC (Vazhnyye istorii, 23 March). The same report, however, links to another source that indicates Konvoy is not a new PMC at all. 


Let’s start with the Vaznyye istorii report. This is headlined “The Head of Crimea has founded his own PMC. It is connected with Yevgeniy Prigozhin.” The subhead then contends: “Sergey Aksenov has founded a new militarised structure on the peninsula — it is commanded by Prigozhin’s overseer in Africa.” The report then goes on to detail how recruits to the group sign one contract with the PMC, which is formally classified as an army military reserve unit (boyevoy armeyskiy rezerv, or BARS), and another with the Ministry of Defence (MoD). In return, rank-and-file members receive R200,000 a month, commanders R300,000, plus land in Crimea or Abkhazia upon completion of a year of service. The MoD contract provides guarantees to those who are wounded or killed in service. The group apparently has around 300 members at present. Its training base is reportedly in Perevalnoye. 


As Vazhnyye istorii details, a Telegram channel by the name of Konvoy, created in November 2022, posted a video showing Aksenov supposedly inspecting the group’s positions in Ukraine’s Kherson Oblast. A TV journalist — Olga Kurlayeva, from VGTRK — also visited the group and produced a glowing report on how well-resourced it appears. Kurlayeva’s report identified the group’s commander as Mazay, otherwise known as Konstantin Pikalov.


Pikalov was sanctioned in late February by the European Union, which described him as “one of the leaders of the Wagner Group and is responsible for the operational activities of the Wagner Group in Africa, notably in the Central African Republic (CAR). He is accused of being the instigator of the murder of three Russian journalists in July 2018” (Official Journal of the European Union, 25 February).


It is with the discussion of Pikalov, however, that Vazhnyye istorii’s account becomes problematic. Vazhnyye istorii cite an August 2020 investigation by Bellingcat and Insider (Bellingcat, 14 August 2020). That investigation identifies Pikalov, among other things, as “CEO of the Military Security Company ‘Convoy” (voyenno-okhrannaya kompaniya, which is not the same as a PMC, or chastnaya voyennaya kompaniya). This company was, according to Bellingcat/Insider, incorporated in 2015 with a share capital of R100 million and founded by The St Petersburg Cossack Association Convoy, which was registered in 2009.


This does not invalidate any of the details provided by Vazhnyye istorii, and Konvoy certainly has not received a great deal of media attention. As Vaznyye istorii notes, Aksenov has supported Yevgeniy Prigozhin, Wagner’s owner, in his long-running feud with the MoD — and collaboration between Wagner and Aksenov or Konvoy is worth noting. It is, however, rather strange that Vazhnyye istorii frame it as a “new” PMC. The simplest explanation may be that they didn’t read the Bellingcat report carefully enough — even though they cite some of these very same details. Or, to paraphrase Harry Truman, there is nothing new in the world except the history you didn’t finish reading about.

Two sentenced over attack on Volgograd governor’s house

The Southern District Military Court has sentenced two men to 20 and 14 years respectively for an arson attack on the home of Volgograd Oblast Governor Andrey Bocharov. The attack, which took place in November 2016, was classified as a terrorist attack (Caucasian Knot, 22 March).


The court sentenced Mikhail Murzayev, a formed head of the Investigative Committee Department for Volgrograd Oblast, to 20 years in a maximum security prison and deprived him of both his rank as lieutenant general of justice and state awards. Entrepreneur Vladimir Zubkov received a sentence of 14 years  in a maximum security prison. Both men denied the charges, with Murzayev claiming it was the work of an organised crime group that wanted revenge on Bocharov.


Article 205 of the Russian Criminal Code defines terrorism as “the perpetration of an explosion, arson, or any other action endangering the lives of people, causing sizeable property damage, or entailing other socially dangerous consequences, if these actions have been committed for the purpose of violating public security, frightening the population, or exerting influence on decision-making by governmental bodies, and also the threat of committing said actions for the same ends” (Pravo.gov.ru, 28 March). Technically, the attack can be regarded as an attempt to influence decision-making by governmental bodies, which appears to be the angle taken by prosecutors. This, however, stretches the definition: media reporting on the case does not clearly identify direct political motives that most academic definitions require for something to be considered terrorism, and which is implicit in the definition offered by the Criminal Code. Instead, even the formal charges appear to point more in the direction of corruption and political rivalries. The attack was not initially classified as a terrorist attack, but was reclassified several years later (Kommersant, 22 March).

Other stories of interest
  • Stavropol Kray native who is currently in prison has been sentenced again, this time for pledging allegiance to the Islamic State (Kavkaz Realii, 24 March).
  • Dagestani man fined 20,000 roubles (approx £210/$260) for failing to inform authorities about a friend’s decision to join the Syrian group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (Kavkaz Realii, 24 March).
  • Regime-aligned Telegram channels report that Ingushetian prosecutors have opened a fifth criminal case against Islam Belokiyev, former press secretary for the Sheikh Mansur Battalion that is fighting Russia in Ukraine. The latest charges relate to accusations of terrorism financing (Kavkaz Realii, 22 March).
  • Krasnodar resident claims that terrorism financing charges opened against her are revenge by the authorities, after she protested against the sentencing of her sister on similar charges (Caucasian Knot, 24 March).
  • Ukraine’s National Resistance Center claims that “100 mercenaries from Angola have arrived in the Russian Federation,” and that Russia is also recruiting mercenaries via the Belarusian outfit GardServis. There does not appear to have been any independent reporting on either claim (National Resistance Center, 23 March). For more on GardServis, see the 2 February edition of Threatologist Eurasia.
  • Bloomberg claim that Wagner will downscale its activities in Ukraine to focus more on Africa. It cites anonymous sources in the Kremlin and intelligence services (Moscow Times, 23 March).
  • Prigozhin claims that more than 5,000 former convicts who signed up to fight with Wagner in Ukraine have now been released, with a recidivism rate of 0.31%. Of course, there is no independent proof to support this claim (Kavkaz Realii, 25 March).
  • Dagestani man reportedly killed by police in Kaytagskiy Rayon after opening fire on another man. According to the official account, the police had receive a tip-off that the killed man was illegally storing weapons in his house (Argumenty i Fakty Dagestan, 27 March).
  • The New York Times reports on how burials and honours for convicts killed fighting with Wagner in Ukraine are causing social tensions (The New York Times, 26 March).
  • Kosovo becomes the latest country to sanction Wagner, after it decides to implement the US designation of the group as a transnational criminal organisation (EURACTIV, 23 March).
  • Ingushetian man sentenced to 12 years for membership of a terrorist organisation and storing and transporting weapons and explosives. He was convicted for membership of the Caucasus Emirate and alleged torture by investigators (Caucasian Knot, 28 March).

This newsletter and its content is copyright of Mark Youngman and Threatologist. Copyright © 2023. All rights reserved. You may not, except with our express written permission, distribute or commercially exploit the content.

Set your logo on company info page, thank you.

Unsubscribe   |   Manage your subscription   |   View online