A "Wagner week" again: China fails to provide support; activity in Sudan; Kremlin press secretary's son may have fought with group

Threatologist Eurasia:27 April 2023


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This week's main stories:

  • US intelligence leaks claim Wagner unsuccessfully sought supplies from China
  • CNN claims Wagner playing leading role in Sudan
  • Reports that Kremlin press secretary’s son fought with Wagner in Ukraine
US intelligence leaks claim Wagner unsuccessfully sought supplies from China

The Financial Times (FT) cited evidence from leaked US intelligence material that supposedly shows that Russian Private Military Company (PMC) Wagner unsuccessfully sought “munitions and equipment” from China (Financial Times, 20 April).


According to the FT, Wagner made the request at the start of 2023. Successful requests were made to Belarus and Syria. Wagner also  sought drones and other equipment from Turkey, adding further details to earlier leaks about efforts to seek supplies from Turkey (mentioned in Threatologist Eurasia 13 April edition).


The reporting is based on “more than 100 highly classified documents alleged to have been posted online by a 21-year-old member of the Massachusetts Air National Guard who was working as a systems administrator in an intelligence unit.” However, the FT provided insufficient information on the precise intelligence to enable the claims to be critically scrutinised.


In related news, US intelligence leaks also claim that Ukraine planned to target Russian military and Wagner troops in Syria, but the operation was halted by Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelenskiy (Washington Post, 20 April).

CNN claims Wagner playing leading role in Sudan

CNN has cited claims by “Sudanese and regional diplomatic sources” that Wagner is supplying Sudan’s Rapid Support Force (RSF) with surface-to-air missiles. RSF is a militia group led by Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, who is engaged in a struggle with Sudan’s military ruler General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan for control of the country (CNN, 21 April).


In support of the claim, CNN and the open-source investigative group All Eyes on Wagner analysed satellite images from neighbouring Libya, where they have observed increased activity at airbases used by Wagner. The bases are controlled by Libyan militia leader Khalifa Haftar, who allegedly supports the RSF.


Wagner denied claims about its activities in Sudan, insisting it had not been in the country in the last two years (Reuters, 19 April).


Wagner has been active in Sudan since late 2017. Russian Prime Minister Dmitriy Medvedev announced in November 2017 that the Sudanese government had signed a deal with M-Invest — a company that, like Wagner — is owned by Yevgeniy Prigozhin (Marten, 2019). Wagner provided security, training, and protection services to high-ranking officials, rather than performing any kind of direct military role (Carnegie, 2019). 


A recent report by the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime cited a leaked 2019 Wagner strategy document that identified Sudan as a priority country for the group (Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime, 2023). The report notes that Wagner’s involvement in Sudan has persisted since Omar al-Bashir was ousted as the country’s leader in April 2019. Dagalo played a key role in the coup against al-Bashir and built strong relations with Russia as part of the transitional government that replaced him. However, he has subsequently fallen out with al-Burhan.

Reports that Kremlin press secretary’s son fought with Wagner in Ukraine

Media reports claim that Nikolay Peskov, the son of Kremlin Press Secretary Dmitriy Peskov, fought with Wagner in Ukraine  for six months (RBK, 24 April).


On 21 April, Prigozhin claimed in an interview that Dmitriy asked him to “accept him [Nikolay] as a simple gunner.” Prigozhin did not specify when this had occurred or how long Nikolay served with the group (RBK, 21 April).


Nikolay confirmed the information — although not quite as unambiguously as many media outlets claimed. Komsomolskaya Pravda published an interview with Nikolay, in which he claimed that he had served in the “special military operation” and asked for his father’s help in joining up with a PMC. He insisted that “I considered it my duty. […] I couldn’t sit on the side and watch my friends and others go there [to Ukraine].” He also claimed he had used an alias, so that others wouldn’t know his true identity, and served for just under six months. However, in the interview, Nikolay only mentions a “PMC” and does not explicitly reference Wagner —and it seems to be this interview that most media outlets are relying on as the original source of the claim that Nikolay “confirmed” his participation in Wagner itself (Komsomolskaya Pravda, 22 April).  


Dmitriy also offered confirmation that was less categorical than media outlets portrayed it. He stated that Nikolay had participated in the “special military operation” (RBK, 24 April), but again he does not appear to have explicitly referenced Wagner. Media outlets might be entirely right with their two plus two equals four conclusion, but the reporting appears to be slightly misrepresenting the facts. BBC News even had the claim in quotes in its headline, but the actual quote — and therefore its source — does not appear in the text of the report (BBC News, 24 April). 


BBC News also noted that doubt has been cast on the veracity of Nikolay’s claims, which cannot be independently verified. Multiple sources, including BBC News, recalled how Nikolay had previously been embarrassed by a YouTube prank in which he is recorded apparently trying to evade military service.


Nikolay — much like his father Dmitriy, sister Elizaveta Peskova, and step-mother Tatyana Navka — have already been sanctioned by the United States and the European Union over the war in Ukraine (US Department of the Treasury, 11 March 2022; Official Journal of the European Union, 3 June 2022).  

Other stories of interest
  • Russia’s Supreme Court confirmed the conviction of a Dagestani native, sentenced to five years for posting two videos featuring Chechen separatists (Kavkaz Realii, 19 April).
  • A Dagestani resident who was previously convicted of participating in an attack on Perm OMON troops in 2000 has now been found guilty of attacking Pskov paratroopers in the same year. He has been sentenced to 23 years in totality (Kavkaz Realii, 20 April).
  • The Southern District Military Court has sentenced a Crimean man to four years in prison for membership of Hizb ut-Tahrir. The group is banned in Russia, but not Ukraine (SOVA Center, 19 April).
  • Security services in Ingushetia detain a man on suspicion of terrorism financing, after he allegedly transferred someone R750,000 that he gathered online (Caucasian Knot, 21 April).
  • An appeals court in Dagestan has overturned the conviction of a Dagestani woman, sentenced to five years for trying to join IS. The court returned the case to prosecutors on the grounds that incorrect charges had been filed (Kavkaz Realii, 21 April).
  • A Moscow court has issued an arrest warrant for the head of Ukraine’s Main Directorate of Intelligence on terrorism-related charges (Nastoyashcheye Vremya, 21 April).
  • Russia’s State Duma has approved legislative changes that allow contractors who have participated in the “special military operation” in Ukraine — which will include Wagner fighters — to receive the status of military veterans (Meduza, 20 April).
  • Three former counterterrorism operatives from Chechnya have been convicted of carrying out a terrorist attack in 2005. The men were sentenced to between 21 and 24 years, with their roles acting as aggravating circumstances in sentencing (Caucasian Knot, 21 April).
  • Georgia’s State Security Service has reported that they have arrested a citizen accused of travelling to Syria to join the Islamic State in 2013 and then fulfilling a leadership role over the next two years (OC Media, 24 April).
  • Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) reported on the detention of a member of the Islamic State who was allegedly planning a terrorist attack in Stavropol Kray’s Mineralnyye Vody (Caucasian Knot, 20 April).
  • A prisoner in Adygea stands accused of creating a cell belonging to the banned Arestantskoye ugolovnoye edinstvo (Prisoners’ Criminal Unity) and raising funds for the group (Caucasian Knot, 25 April).
  • The New York Times has reported on the high rate of HIV infections among prisoners fighting for Russia in Ukraine — many of which have been fighting with Wagner (The New York Times, 21 April).
  • A Volgograd court in April 2023 has rejected a case brought by a local activist who demanded an explanation from the Investigative Committee over how a man ended up being released from prison after fighting with Wagner (Kavkaz Realii, 24 April).
  • Prigozhin has published a video criticising the PMCs Potok, supposedly created by Gazprom, and Bokareva, belonging to billionaire Andre Bokarev. Little is known about either group (Nastoyashcheye Vremya, 24 April).

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