UK, France consider Wagner designation; Duma split over Wagner; Chechen separatist defects

Threatologist Eurasia: 18 May 2023


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

This week's main stories:

  • UK, France consider designating Wagner a terrorist organisation
  • Russian Duma split over Wagner
  • Former Chechen separatist defects to Kadyrov
UK, France consider designating Wagner a terrorist organisation

Both the UK and France have moved towards designating Russian Private Military Company (PMC) Wagner a terrorist organisation — a largely symbolic gesture, but the latest in a line of international legislative actions against the group.


On 10 May, the French parliament unanimously passed a non-binding resolution that called on the European Union to designate Wagner as a terrorist organisation. French MP Benjamin Haddad accused the group of “spread[ing] instability and violence,” human rights violations, and facilitating Russian President Vladimir Putin’s efforts to undermine democracies (The Guardian, 2023a).


The Times, citing a government source, has also reported that the UK is preparing to formally designate the group, having spent two months preparing a legal case. The UK government declined to comment on the report (Reuters, 2023).


Technically, terrorist designations would result in asset freezes and punishments for working with the group. However, Wagner and associated individuals are already the subject of multiple sanctions by Western countries — the US and the EU in particular. French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna admitted as much, saying it would not have a “direct supplemental effect” but insisting that “we should not underestimate the symbolic importance of such a designation, nor the dissuasive effect that it could have on states tempted to turn” to Wagner (The Guardian, 2023a). The most significant impact is likely to be second order, influencing the willingness of countries who want positive relations with designating states to employ the group.


Nevertheless, Jason McCue, a lawyer pursuing a £5bn case against the group being pursued by Ukrainian refugees in the UK, argued that the designation “will be invaluable in terms of speed and cost of persuading a British judge.” He expressed hope that the US would then follow suit, which would open up even more opportunities to punish Wagner-affiliated individuals, The Guardian also noted the UK has designated fewer people for their association with Wagner than the US, and claimed UK ministers are “bracing themselves for a highly critical report from the foreign affairs select committee on the government’s lack of grip on the Wagner phenomenon” (The Guardian, 2023b). In an article for The Conversation (2023), Brian J. Phillips has explored the process of designation and the potential positive and negative consequences of such in further detail.


Numerous countries have already designated Wagner a transnational criminal organisation. Lithuania is the only state to date to have designated it as a terrorist organisation (Nastoyashcheye Vremya, 2023).

Russian Duma split over Wagner

Divisions among State Duma members over Wagner have become more prominent over the last week, with differing views over whether to invite its owner, Yevgeniy Prigozhin, to speak and calls to punish those who defect to the group.


Duma Deputy Speaker Sergey Neverov from United Russia proposed inviting Prigozhin to address the Duma at the end of April, when the latter had voiced very public criticisms of the Defence Ministry over ammunition supplies to his group. Prigozhin welcomed the idea. However, according to Kommersant, the idea has not been discussed either among the Duma leadership or United Russia deputies. Kommersant’s source described it as a “personal initiative” on the part of Neverov, rather than a formal invite (Kommersant, 2023).


Several prominent Communists reacted sceptically to the idea, with an unwillingness to undermine the military leadership a key theme in their comments. Just Russia leader Sergey Mironov — who has previously called for Wagner to be legalised in Russia (see Threatologist Eurasia: 26 January) — supported the proposal.


Meanwhile, Duma Deputy Lieutenant-General Viktor Sobolev called for those who have been mobilised to fight in Ukraine and then joined Wagner to be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison. He argued (correctly) that PMCs are “illegal armed formations,” and that existing legislation strictly prohibits soldiers from leaving their positions without permission. He later clarified that he was only calling for the imprisonment of those who go AWOL from their positions and join Wagner, not Wagner recruits in general  (Vazhnyye istorii, 2023).

Former Chechen separatist defects to Kadyrov

Khuseyn Dzhambetov, a former commander of the Detached Special Purpose Battalion (OBON) Chechen unit fighting in and for Ukraine, appears to have defected to the side of Chechen Head Ramzan Kadyrov.


Dzhambetov posted a video of himself in a mosque in Shali and claimed he had not been forced to return to Chechnya (Kavkaz Realii, 2023c). He credited “the fathers of the country” for his arrival and threatened people who allegedly misrepresent the situation in Chechnya (Caucasian Knot, 2023f).


Chechen separatists reacted negatively to the news. According to Kavkaz Realii, part of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, OBON deputy commander Zumso Amayev labelled Dzhambetov a traitor (Kavkaz Realii, 2023c). Chechen separatist leader in exile Akhmed Zakayev claimed that he had been aware since September-October 2022 that Dzhambetov was in contact with Kadyrov’s representatives and had dismissed him from OBON in December 2022 — clearly trying to downplay any concerns about the impact of the defection (Caucasian Knot, 2023f).


Kavkaz Realii reported that Dzhambetov joined OBON after its creation in July 2022 and occupied the role of head of its information and analysis department, having previously been in exile in Belgium following participation in the Second Chechen War. They also noted that Dzhambetov had previously publicised his own disagreements with Zakayev, and had been the target of a criminal case opened in Chechnya for organising a terrorist group (Kavkaz Realii, 2023c).

Other stories of interest
  • Tajikistan has deported to Russia a native of North Ossetia who is the wife of an Islamic State (IS) leader detained in Turkey (Kavkaz Realii, 2023a).
  • Two men were killed by police near the Dagestani village of Tsysha, Kulinskiy Rayon. They allegedly resisted arrest, having earlier visited “a supporter of a religious extremist movement in Islam” and then tried to steal a taxi (Caucasian Knot, 2023a).
  • A Dagestani resident has received a three year suspended sentence for membership of the banned group USSR (alternatively Union of Slavic Forces of Rus or Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) (Caucasian Knot, 2023b).
  • Residents of Sochi have reported receiving invitations to join Wagner through the mail. Some of the letters have been personally addressed, and some have been received by people registered in other cities (Caucasian Knot, 2023c).
  • Caucasian Knot has profiled the Akhmat-Groznyy OMON unit, which on 12 May 2023 celebrated its 23rd anniversary (Caucasian Knot, 2023d).
  • The Russian University of Spetsnaz in Gudermes, Chechnya, has replaced its director for the second time in two months. Adam Dashayev has replaced Abdula Akhmadov, who only took on the role in March (see Threatologist Eurasia: 16 March) (Kavkaz Realii, 2023b).
  • A Dagestani resident has been sentenced to 12 years in prison for planning a terrorist attack in Stavropol on behalf of IS (Caucasian Knot, 2023e).
Source List

Caucasian Knot. 2023a, 12 May. Два человека убиты в перестрелке с силовиками в Дагестане.


Caucasian Knot. 2023b, 13 May. Жительница Дагестана осуждена за причастность к ячейке "СССР.”*


Caucasian Knot. 2023c, 10 May. Адресная реклама ЧВК "Вагнер" удивила сочинцев.


Caucasian Knot. 2023d, 16 May. Главное о спецподразделении «Ахмат-Грозный».


Caucasian Knot. 2023e, 16 May. Житель Дагестана приговорен к длительному сроку за подготовку теракта в Ставрополе.


Caucasian Knot. 2023f, 16 May. Ичкерийцы прокомментировали переход Джамбетова на сторону кадыровцев.


Kavkaz Realii. 2023a, 15 May. Таджикистан экстрадировал в Россию уроженку Осетии, жену вербовщика ИГИЛ.


Kavkaz Realii. 2023b, 13 May. В "университете спецназа" в Чечне второй раз за два месяца сменился директор.


Kavkaz Realii. 2023c, 14 May. Бывший участник воюющего на стороне Украины чеченского батальона ОБОН приехал в Грозный.


Kommersant. 2023, 10 May. Вариации на тему «Вагнера».


Nastoyashcheye Vremya. 2023, 14 March. Литва признала ЧВК "Вагнер" террористической организацией.


Reuters. 2023, 10 May. Britain set to ban Russia's Wagner Group - The Times.


The Conversation. 2023, 12 May. Wagner Group: what it would mean for the UK to designate Putin’s private army a ‘terrorist organisation.’


The Guardian. 2023a, 10 May. UK poised to label Wagner group terrorists as France urges EU to act.


The Guardian. 2023b, 10 May. UK proscribing Wagner group as terrorist ‘will help Ukrainians sue.’


Vazhnyye istorii. 2023, 15 May. Депутат Госдумы назвал ЧВК «Вагнер» «незаконным вооруженным формированием» и обещал мобилизованным лишение свободы за переход к Пригожину.


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.

Unsubscribe   |   Manage your subscription   |   View online